Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, Los Angeles, California, on Sept. 1, announced a major legal win over lockdown policies it had challenged for months.
According to Christian Post, local authorities had agreed to pay the small church $800,000 in settlement for barring indoor worship during COVID-19 lockdowns.
The lawsuit against COVID-19 protocols was filed last August after Pastor John MacArthur recognized a responsibility to continue worship services to parishioners even during the challenging time of national calamities.
Last spring, as infection rates were high, California officials decided to prohibit all in-person services, after it became apparent how easily the virus could spread under these conditions. Services were canceled for a time, then Pastor MacArthur began conducting online services.
But then, as the parishioners began returning to their church, he knew his obligation was to provide services for them. Defying the official mandates, the pastor was threatened with imprisonment.
Appearing on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle last September, MacArthur was unperturbed at the prospect of jail time.
“Of course, my biblical hero apart from the Lord Jesus Christ is the Apostle Paul,” MacArthur said. “And when he went into a town, he didn’t ask what the hotel was like. He asked what the jail was like because he knew that’s where he was going to spend his time. So I don’t mind being a little apostolic — if they want to tuck me into jail, I’m open for a jail ministry … I’ve done a lot of other ministries and haven’t had the opportunity to do that one. So bring it on.”
The pastor’s refusal to follow the restrictions imposed on the church led to months of legal fights with both state and local officials.
“Grace Community Church provides a spiritual service to the Los Angeles community that its congregation and its members rightly believe is essential, and the California State Constitution specifically protects their fundamental rights in this context,” the lawsuit stated.
Similar lawsuits against California’s order had been filed, many of which alleged clear “preferential treatment” between churches and other industries, which were spared from the same restrictions, such as the film industry, NPR reported in February.
A Supreme Court earlier this year had ruled that California must not interfere with indoor church services during the COVID-19 pandemic, but restrictions on singing and chanting would remain.
After months of fighting for religious freedom, the major financial win also showed that local authorities had accepted that church is essential for parishioners.
“While we are pleased with this ultimate result, this epic legal battle was avoidable and unnecessary,” said Dean Broyles, head of the National Center for Law & Policy, according to The Sacramento Bee.
“Very early in the pandemic, I politely asked Governor Newsom to do his constitutional duty as our public servant by, at a minimum, treating churches as ‘essential,’ as other state governors have done,” Broyles added. “Unfortunately, he ignored my written request.”
California’s Department of Public Health had also changed their public guidance for COVID-19 response, which went from “mandatory” to “strongly recommended.”
“In response to recent judicial rulings, effective immediately, location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended,” the department said. “The linked guidance is in the process of being updated. All other restrictions in the guidance remain in place.”