L.A. County and Grace Community Church Continue Dispute in Court Today

Today, L.A. County and Grace Community Church met in court today in the courtroom of Judge Mitchell Beckloff in their dispute over indoor worship services. The L.A. Country Health Order forbids indoor worship but is finding it difficult to enforce since Grace will not abide by it.

According to an article in today’s LA Daily News, a decision may not come for several days. According to the report, the arguments pertained to a compelling state interest to regulate religion versus the freedom of religious bodies to control their practices.

 

L.A. County Terminates Parking Lease Agreement with Grace Community Church

In a letter dated August 28 2020, the L.A. County Flood Control District informed John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church that it is terminating a lease agreement on three lots Grace uses for church parking. According to the church, they have used the lots continuously since 1975. The letter begins:

In accordance with General Provision C of Rental Agreement No. 01-18 (“Agreement,” copy enclosed) between the Los Angeles County Flood Control District and Grace Community Church (Grace), the District is exercising its right to terminate the Agreement by giving a minimum of 30-day written notice of intention to terminate. Please be advised that by this notice, the District will hereby terminate the Agreement effective October 1, 2020. Accordingly, pursuant to the Agreement, Grace shall vacate and remove all of its improvements and personal property placed on the premises (as defined in  the Agreement) on or before October 1, 2020. If Grace fails to vacate the premise as required, the District may enter the premises and remove Grace’s personal property in accordance with the Agreement and applicable law, and Grace will be responsible for any resultant expenses incurred by the District. Any improvements, including fencing, that are not removed will become the property of the District at its option. Effective October 2, 2020, or thereafter, the District will secure the premises.

Read the letter from the L.A. County Flood Control District

The church has until October 1. The next hearing on L.A. County v. Grace Community Church is September 4. The county’s actions appear to be a response  to Grace’s violation of their Health Order banning indoor worship. However, there may be time for movement on both sides before the lease agreement runs out. The outcome of the September 4 hearing may have some influence on this matter as well.

For all of the posts on LA County v. Grace Community Church, click here.

For my ongoing tally of churches who are associated with COVID-19 outbreaks, click here.

 

About that Quiet CDC Report of Deaths from COVID

Yesterday before his sermon, John MacArthur gained loud applause from his congregation when he announced the following news:

In truth, 6% of the deaths that have occurred can be directly attributable to COVID, 94% cannot. Of the 160,000 people that have died, 9,210 actually died from COVID.

There is no pandemic.

MacArthur may have gotten this news from his attorney Jenna Ellis, who in turn may have gotten it from Gateway Pundit.

I normally would not link to Gateway Pundit since he appears to have gone full QAnon but I will in this case because I want to demonstrate how misinformation works.  Joe Hoft cites a QAnon source who claims that the CDC “quietly updated the COVID number to admit that only 6% of all the 153,504 deaths recorded actually died from COVID. That’s 9,210 deaths.”

Hoft calls his post a “Shock Report” and says the CDC “silently updated their numbers this week” implying there was something to hide or that there was something new about this week’s report. Before MacArthur told his congregation that only 6% of deaths were due to COVID, he said: “A rather telling report came out this week and for the first time, we heard the truth.”

The First Time?

In fact, there was nothing new about the findings in this report.

Via the Wayback Machine, I went back to May and found that 7% of deaths had COVID alone listed as a cause of death.

Here is the CDC comorbidity report summary for June 20 showing COVID as the only cause mentioned for 7% of the deaths.

How about July?

By July 18, the percent had dipped down to 6%. That took place the week ending July 4.  That is the percent today and has been since July.

There was No Quiet CDC Admission but There is a Pandemic

Looking back over the CDC reports, these breathless QAnon reports look silly. There was no new revelation, change, or admission. Throughout the pandemic, people with underlying health vulnerabilities have died because they became infected with COVID-19.  Without COVID, those people would be alive or at least would have lived longer then they did.

So much of the conspiratorial thinking is focused on the U.S. What about the rest of the world? Have all other countries been taken in by our “deep state?” Is Dr. Fauci so powerful that he can manipulate every nation on Earth to shutdown?

There is a pandemic. It is irresponsible to say otherwise. When you read the next “shock report,” remember this one, check the sources and get a second and third opinion from people who have some knowledge in research.

Watch MacArthur’s announcement:

As of September 1, Youtube removed this video. I have a copy of it hosted here.

For a great summary of the death data, read this from Bob Anderson at the CDC.

I was quoted in this Religion News Service article on this topic.

For all of the posts on LA County v. Grace Community Church, click here.

For my ongoing tally of churches who are associated with COVID-19 outbreaks, click here.

John MacArthur: There is No Pandemic

Just now at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, John MacArthur told his congregation,

In truth, 6% of the deaths that have occurred can be directly attributable to COVID, 94% cannot. Of the 160,000 people that have died, 9,210 actually died from COVID.

There is no pandemic.

Watch:

MacArthur cited a recent CDC report on causes of COVID-19 deaths (Here is the CDC report in question). It provides the comorbid conditions for the vast majority of deaths triggered by COVID-19. COVID-19 and something else contributed to most deaths. What MacArthur seems to be unaware of is that most of those people would be alive today if they had not contracted COVID-19.

What is embarrassing for MacArthur is that this has been known for months. The CDC has released reports before showing the underlying health conditions of deaths and hospitalized patients.  Yet, in ominous tones, MacArthur makes it appear he is revealing some previously concealed truth. While his scary announcement may serve his persecution narrative, it also makes his congregation and followers more vulnerable to the virus.

Although he started out saying he isn’t an expert, he quickly made an erroneous judgment about the data and declared no pandemic to exist despite the reality all around. John MacArthur knows when the experts don’t.

UPDATE: I learned after I posted that QAnon supporters have been talking up this CDC report and Donald Trump retweeted one of them this morning. As I mentioned, the controversy over causes of death and underlying conditions is not a new one. The CDC has been reporting on underlying conditions for months and most deaths are due to multiple causes (e.g. in May, the percent of deaths with COVID-19 alone as a listed cause of death was 7%). That MacArthur touted the report as some kind of revelation makes me wonder where he gets his news and information.

The possible source for this misinterpretation of the CDC data is one of MacArthur’s attorneys in his legal battle to continue worship services indoors – Jenna Ellis. She tweeted a misleading post from far right blog Gateway Pundit on the CDC report very early this morning.

MacArthur attributed his false information to Satan:

It’s clear to us the fabrication of numbers because they’re including people who had two or three comorbidities, we know all of that. We know there are reasons for this that have nothing to do with the virus. There’s another virus loose in the world and that’s the virus of deception and the one who’s behind the virus of deception is the arch deceiver, Satan himself. And it’s not a surprise to me that in the midst of all this deception, the great effort that is going on is to shut down churches that preach the Gospel. So this is not a political speech, by the way. But it does not surprise me that they want to shut down those who preach the Gospel because the architects of this level of deception are not a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. They’re a part of the kingdom of darkness.

Here is a great summary of the facts from the CDC’s weekly report of death data.

I wrote more about this here and was quoted on this story at Religion News Service.

For all of the posts on LA County v. Grace Community Church, click here

For my ongoing tally of churches who are associated with COVID-19 outbreaks, click here

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

And a Little Tweet Shall Lead Them – Response to John MacArthur’s Worship Service

I thought about writing a post about John MacArthur’s decision to defy Governor Newsom’s restrictions of church gatherings. I planned to argue that his decision places his congregation and community in jeopardy. I also find fault with his Christian nationalist rationale for violating a legitimate public health edict. However, sometimes a tweet does this trick. Take this one from Hunter Crowder:

The state of California has a compelling interest in limiting the spread of COVID-19. California now has overtaken New York in the number of cases in the U.S.  Indoor church activities make spread easier for the virus and it is easy to understand why the governor wants to limit indoor crowd size.

The Supreme Court twice has let stand rulings that allowed states to restrict religious services and they may do it again. MacArthur may be using this for attention, I don’t know. However, given the situation before us, Hunter has as good a theory as anyone.

Additional information:

I have been tracking churches as a source of spread of COVID-19. You can see that post here.

For more on the COVID-19 outbreak at Allaso Ranch, click here.