LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Southern California megachurch sued Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Thursday over public health orders banning indoor worship services during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Grace Community Church claims religious discrimination by the city and state due to Covid-19 health orders prohibiting indoor church services among other claims, according to a complaint filed in LA County Superior Court on Thursday.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge on Friday denied LA County health officials motion for a temporary retraining order to block the Grace Community Church of Valley from holding in-person services during the Covid-19 pandemic. County health officials sought court intervention due to the ongoing health officer’s order prohibiting large gatherings.
“This is not the first time we as Christ’s church have stood for truth,” Pastor John MacArthur said in a statement. “We will continue to stand firm for the truth today like we have every prior day in our 63-year history and as the biblical New Testament church has done for more than 2,000 years.”
LA County has also slapped the megachurch and MacArthur with a public nuisance complaint for holding indoor worship services — attended by thousands of unmasked worshippers — in violation of the Covid-19 public health orders.
The county said it filed its complaint “reluctantly” after working with the church for several weeks so services could comply with the county’s health orders.
“For the health and safety of both worshippers and the wider community, indoor worship services have been prohibited within the county since mid-July,” the county said in a statement, without commenting on the specifics of its lawsuit. “One thing is certain: we will not be able to enforce our way out of this pandemic and we need everyone doing their part to keep themselves and each other safe and healthy.”
But the church claims the city’s cease and desist letter sent in late July threatened the church with a daily fine of $1,000 or arrest.
Grace Church also name the state’s and county’s public health directors, the LAPD chief of police, the California attorney general, and the LA County sheriff. The church claims violation of its rights to free speech, equal protection, separation of powers and due process under California law among other charges.
The church and MacArthur are represented by the Thomas More Society special counsel Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri.
According to the complaint, the church resumed its Sunday services on July 26 “joining millions of Americans in deciding that enough is enough.”
“We hoped that Los Angeles County would see its error on its own, but after attempted negotiations with their counsel, California is still intent on targeting churches — specifically, Grace Community Church,” Ellis said in a statement.
In a statement LiMandri said, “Pastor MacArthur and his church, as well as all churches, are entitled to practice their religion without government interference. This is especially the case when the government has given free rein to protesters, and is not similarly restricting marijuana dispensaries, large retail outlets and factories, or abortion providers.”
As of Thursday, LA County has reported over 216,000 confirmed coronavirus infections and over 5,100 deaths. While California has reported over 593,000 cases, that figure does not include Thursday’s totals.
LA County alone reported nearly 2,000 new cases and 64 deaths. Updates from the other southland counties of Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura and others across the state will likely push the total confirmed infections in California over 600,000 by morning.
Over 10,000 Californians have died from the virus that causes Covid-19.
The Golden State saw a surge in infections in early June after health orders were relaxed to allow certain parts of the economy — and churches — to reopen.
Emails to LA County health officials, Garcetti and Newsom were not immediately answered.