When Grace Community Church pastor John MacArthur reopened the church’s doors in late July, “people started slowly coming back, and they just kept coming until there were six or seven thousand,” he told CNN. Located in Sun Valley, California, the church is subject to a limit of 100 people at an indoor gathering and to strict social distancing and mask-wearing orders.
The church offered an outdoor tent for parishioners, but MacArthur wasn’t inclined to police public health orders. He told KTLA:
“We’re a church, and we’re going to trust those people to make adult decisions about the reality of their physical and spiritual health.”
When videos of worship services showed far more than 100 people indoors and many of them without a mask, Los Angeles County officials weren’t too happy. The county is a Wuhan coronavirus hotspot, but MacArthur says not one person from his congregation has tested positive.
After weeks of “negotiations” between the County and Grace Community Church, the parties both filed legal complaints Thursday. The County filed a public nuisance complaint against Grace, and Grace filed a religious discrimination complaint against city, county, and state officials. A preliminary hearing was held Friday, with what seems like an unlikely outcome in California, let alone Los Angeles.
Attorney Jenna Ellis, who represents Grace through the Thomas More Society along with Charles LiMandri, tweeted out the good news:
🚨BREAKING w/ @PaulJonna:
An HISTORIC WIN today for @johnmacarthur and @GraceComChurch! Judge allows indoor services with singing and no attendance cap! Church agrees to adhere to mask and social distancing until full hearing.
FIRST CA Court to recognize #ChurchIsEssential!
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) August 14, 2020
This was bad news, of course, for Los Angeles County officials, who were hoping the judge would issue a restraining order and specifically prohibit indoor services until a full hearing can be held September 4.
Not only can Grace Community Church parishioners worship inside (which is a big deal considering that it’s expected to be 110 degrees in Sun Valley on Sunday); they can sing. And, as Ellis notes, the Los Angeles County court is the first in the state to recognize religious worship as an essential activity.