California Judge Denies LA County Request for Restraining Order Against Grace Community Church But Affirms County’s Right to Forbid Indoor Worship

UPDATE (8/25/20) – Judge Beckloff issued his ruling today and declined to issue a restraining order on statutory grounds but told the county that nothing stopped them from enforcing their own Health Order. According to the judge the Court had no jurisdiction to enforce it. A hearing on the merits will be held September 4.

So far LA County has elected not to levy fines or send the authorities out to shut the church down. The court essentially said today that it is up to the county to enforce it or not. MacArthur and his supporters will see this as a victory, but the order remains in effect and the Court of Appeal has said it presumes that it is constitutional. The county could enforce it but may not have the courage to do so.

Read Judge Beckloff’s 8/25/20 decision.

In response to a request for a comment on Beckloff’s ruling, LA County issued this statement.

During this unprecedented health crisis, the Department of Public Health, along with thousands of businesses and millions of residents, has worked tirelessly to curb the transmission of COVID-19 in order to prevent serious illness and death among our residents.   It is deeply disappointing that the Court decided not to grant the County’s request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting Grace Community Church from holding indoor services, as it has done several times in recent weeks. We look forward to a favorable ruling when a full hearing is heard on the matter on September 4. It is also important to note that the County’s Health Officer Order prohibiting indoor gatherings, such as protests and religious services, remains valid and in effect. The Department of Public Health continues to ask residents to do their part and, when attending religious services please stay outdoors, wear a mask and practice social distancing.  Together we can beat the spread of this deadly virus.

Although not directly stated here, it does not appear that the County plans to enforce the Health Order before the September 4 hearing.

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Today before the Honorable Mitchell L. Beckloff, LA County applied again for a restraining order which would prevent Grace Community Church from holding indoor services. At the 8:30am hearing, both sides presented their arguments and the Judge Beckloff took the request for a temporary restraining order under submission. 

A decision is expected either later tonight or tomorrow.

Any restraining order would be in effect only until the September 4 hearing when the Superior Court is expected to rule whether or not the county can enforce the Health Order.

When a decision on the restraining order is announced, I will post it here.

Read: All posts on LA County v. Grace Community Church

Grace Community Church and LA County See Today’s Superior Court Action Differently; Updated with Court Orders

Today, Judge Mitchell Beckloff of the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles twicw took up the matter of the County of Los Angeles v. Grace Community Church. According to the minute orders available from the County of LA court website, the judge ruled that the “Defendants (Grace Community Church) request for ‘expedited preliminary injunction discovery’ and a continuance of the hearing is denied.” Both sides came away declaring a positive outcome and another hearing is slated for Monday, August 24.

Read today’s order from Judge Beckloff (8:30am hearing)

Read today’s order from Judge Beckloff (3pm hearing)

In a press release, Grace Community Church said, “The Los Angeles County Superior Court announced on August 20, 2020, that there is no court order prohibiting Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church from holding indoor worship services.” On the other hand, an LA County press release said, “A Superior Court judge has affirmed a state Court of Appeal ruling that upheld the validity of Los Angeles County’s Health Officer Order, including the prohibition on indoor church services, which a Sun Valley church has challenged as unconstitutional.”

Although I could get no further comment from either camp, the fact is that the prohibition on indoor services was never a court order. It is a Health Order from the LA County Health Officer. The Court of Appeal upheld the validity of the Health Officer’s Order and according to the LA County press release, the Superior Court judge today affirmed that ruling. Although the statement is not recorded in his order, it is possible that the judge said today that there is no court order prohibiting indoor worship while at the same time validating the Health Officer’s Order.

On August 24, LA County will ask LA Superior Court to consider issuing a temporary restraining order prohibiting indoor services. If such an order is issued, future services could be the basis for a contempt citation and fines.

See all articles on Grace Community Church v. LA County

 

 

L.A. County Applies for Contempt Order and Sanctions Against Grace Community Church and John MacArthur

Yesterday, LA County asked the Superior Court of California to hold Grace Community Church and John MacArthur in contempt of court for violating the August 14 modified temporary restraining order of Judge Chalfant and then the Court of Appeals ruling on August 15th by having services on August 16th and by refusing to allow County health officials access to the church.

Read the LA County application to hold Grace Community Church in contempt

LA County’s Health Order prohibits indoor worship services as one means of stopping the spread of COVID-19. John MacArthur and Grace Community Church believes the order infringes on their rights to gather and worship. Consequently, they have met for indoor worship in violation of the Health Order. On August 14, in response to a request from LA County for a restraining order to halt indoor worship, County Judge James Chalfant denied in part and granted in part the order by allowing Grace Community to meet if they wore masks and physically distanced. LA County then went to the Court of Appeal to ask for that court to set aside the lower court order which it did. At that point, Grace Community disobeyed the Health Order and did not wear masks or physical distance in the Sunday service. Now, the County wants the church and MacArthur held in contempt with sanctions applied.

The County requested a citation of contempt which could lead to a $1,000 fine and up to five days in jail and sanctions which, if imposed, could amount to $1,500 per violation. Depending on how many violations are determined by the court, the fines could be substantial.

In response, the church is not backing down. A press release issued this evening stated: “Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church…are the targets of a County of Los Angeles request to be held in contempt of court. Thomas More Society attorneys are representing the internationally followed preacher and his church and defending their religious freedoms against the county’s unconstitutional violation of the right to worship together.”

Thomas More/MacArthur suit against California

CA Court of Appeal Upholds Ban on Indoor Worship in John MacArthur Case (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Grace Community Church conducted an indoor meeting this morning with little masking or social distancing. In fact, near the beginning of the service, John MacArthur said, “the good news is that you’re here, you’re not distancing, and you’re not wearing masks.” You can hear that quote in the second part of the audio below.

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Yesterday, the California Court of Appeal set aside Judge Chalfant’s lower court partial denial of Los Angeles County’s restraining order on indoor worship at John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church.

Read the Court of Appeal ruling

Los Angeles County filed an emergency request with the Court of Appeal to prevent Grace Community Church from having indoor services this morning.  In short, the Court of Appeal ruled that county’s Health Order had support from prior court rulings and was likely to be upheld at trial. The Court of Appeal held that the order should be upheld at least until the September 4th hearing, although the church will have an opportunity to present a rebuttal by August 25.

Court Declines to Halt Indoor Services at Grace Community Church; Church Must Comply with Masking and Social Distancing (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Late Saturday, 8/15/20, CA Court of Appeal set aside Judge Chalfant’s partial denial and upheld LA County’s Health Order. See this post for more on the Court of Appeal action.
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Today, Judge James Chalfant granted in part and denied in part Los Angeles County’s request for a restraining order against Grace Community Church. John MacArthur led the church to defy the California public health restrictions on indoor worship and filed suit against the state. In response, LA County filed for a restraining order to stop the church from meeting.

Although the judge declined to halt indoor worship altogether, he ordered the church to “comply with the mandates of the Health Orders to wear face coverings and practice physical distancing.” This practice will be a departure from the last two sundays when very few people in the congregation wore masks and the congregation did not sit apart. The county health department will also be allowed to be on site to monitor compliance.

According to press release from the church, MacArthur said, “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 is to meet.” The full hearing on the matter is slated for September 4.

The church is framing this as full vindication.  In fact, according to Judge Chalfant’s order, the restraining order was denied in part and granted in part. The accurate picture is that the church did not follow safe practices before, but now they have to as a condition of meeting indoors. According to Chalfant’s order, Grace is prohibited from meeting indoors unless the church complies with masking and physical distancing. I asked the public relations firm representing the church if this social distancing requirement would limit the number in attendance but the representative did not have the answer to that question.

Judge Chalfant’s order

LA County’s complaint against Grace Community Church

Grace Community Church’s suit against California