After influential pastor John MacArthur and his Grace Community Church brought a lawsuit against the state of California over orders stipulating that churches may not meet for indoor services, a judge has ruled that the church can hold worship services, with singing and without an attendance cap, until the full hearing in September.
Jenna Ellis, one of the two lawyers representing MacArthur and GCC, tweeted the news on Friday evening:
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!
Ellis provided Disrn with a press release from the Thomas More Society:
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Sun Valley, CA—A California Court vindicated Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church's stance that church is essential Friday by recognizing the constitutionally protected right of churches to remain open and hold indoor services in their sanctuary.
Hours after Grace Community Church filed suit to invalidate Los Angeles County's unconstitutional restrictions on churches, the County filed for a temporary restraining order to force the church to stop holding indoor services and comply with every unreasonable and over-broad demand. At hearing today in Los Angeles Superior Court, Judge James Chalfant denied almost all of the County's requests, agreeing with Pastor MacArthur and the Church that it is the County's burden to show why it should be permitted to infringe on the constitutionally protected rights of churches to freely exercise religion. The judge did also express concern for some safety protocols.
To address those concerns and after explaining that the County was being unreasonable in its demands, counsel for Grace Community Church offered to comply with mask wearing and social distancing indoors until the matter could be fully heard, rather than the County simply rushing to shut down the Church. The judge agreed this was reasonable, set the full hearing for September 4, 2020, and ordered the Church to have congregants wear masks and social distance between family groups indoors.
Pastor John MacArthur said of the ruling, "I am very grateful the Court has allowed us to meet inside and we are happy for a few weeks to comply and respect what the judge has asked of us because he is allowing us to meet. This vindicates our desire to stay open and serve our people. This also gives us an opportunity to show that we are not trying to be rebellious or unreasonable, but that we will stand firm to protect our church against unreasonable, unconstitutional restrictions."
Jenna Ellis said, "This is a huge vindication for Pastor John and the Board of Elders at Grace Community Church, who have simply asked for their right to worship the Lord together in church to be acknowledged and protected. When I spoke with Pastor John after the hearing, he expressed sincere gratitude to the California Court and Judge Chalfant and said his congregation will be happy to comply with the the judge's temporary order. This is why John MacArthur is so deeply loved and respected by his congregation and all over the world. He is a gracious and firm leader, and his biblical stand for church being essential has now been rightly validated. We look forward to continuing to advocate on his behalf in asking the Court to protect the fundamental rights of churches."
Charles LiMandri said, "This result is indeed a great victory for all citizens' constitutional right to freedom of religion. Pastor MacArthur's love of God and country motivated him and all the GCC church elders to resist the unjust government shut-down orders targeting people of faith. Their devotion and patriotism has brought about a result that respects the legitimate interests of both the church and state. This result makes it possible for the thousands of congregants of GCC to continue to gather together in their church to worship, while at the same time honoring the court's requirement that reasonable and temporary safety measures be observed. This court ruling should stay in effect at least until there can be a full court hearing in this case on September 4, 2020. Please continue to pray that the courts allow this enlightened judge's decision to stand so that all Californians can soon resume the worship of God in their respective churches."
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? MacArthur and the elders at Grace Community Church announced on July 24 that they would no longer obey the state's order banning all indoor church services. MacArthur expounded further on their reasoning in his first defiant sermon, titled, "We Must Obey God Rather Than Men," in which he, among other reasons, cited the statistical deadliness of COVID-19, the fact that churches in California have been shut down while abortion clinics and liquor stores have been deemed "essential" and allowed to remain open, and the biblical grants and limitations to government authority over Christians.
Last Sunday MacArthur referred to GCC's church services as "peaceful protests":