A California judge ruled on Thursday that L.A. County can bar Pastor John MacArthur's church from holding indoor services, a continuation of the battle taking place in the state over religious liberty.
L.A. County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff ruled in favor of public health officials, who took legal action last month to bar MacArthur's Grace Community Church from holding indoor services. The church had been hosting indoor worship services since July 26, in defiance of county orders.
"While the court is mindful that there is no substitute for indoor worship in the 'spiritual refuge' of a sanctuary, the court cannot ignore the County Health Order does not dictate a ban on worship," Beckloff wrote in his decision.
The order will remain in effect until the issue is resolved.
The Thomas More Society, which is representing Grace Community Church, said the ruling "fails to apply the appropriate constitutional standard of review."
"While the judge did go out of his way to repeatedly state that he is not ruling on the merits, only a ruling at this very preliminary stage, Pastor MacArthur is still harmed because he has every right to hold church," said Special Counsel Jenna Ellis. "Church is essential, and no government agent has the runaway, unlimited power to force churches to close indefinitely. The county's argument was basically ‘because we can,' which is the very definition of tyranny."
The order, while it bars indoor services, allows outdoor services, with coronavirus safety regulations such as social distancing.
County officials said they pursued legal action after "significant efforts" to work with the church failed.
"Religious services are central to many of our residents' lives, especially in these trying times, and services have been allowed to be held online and outdoors with physical distancing and the use of face coverings, and they may continue to do so," officials said in a statement. "The issue is a reminder that we must all work together and modify our activities to contain and slow this virus, which has caused the death of more than 6,000 Los Angeles County residents and has made thousands of others gravely ill."
Pastor MacArthur reacted to the decision:
Pastor John MacArthur said, "In an inexplicable ruling, the judge said the ‘scale tipped in favor of the county.' 1/100th of 1% of Californians with a virus apparently wins over the U.S. Constitution and religious freedom for all? That is not what our founders said. Nor is that what God says, who gave us our rights that our government—including the judicial branch—is supposed to protect. The scale should always tip in favor of liberty, especially for churches."