The city of Los Angeles has issued John MacArthur and Grace Community Church a cease-and-desist letter, threatening a $1,000 fine or arrest for continuing to hold in-person church services in defiance of state orders aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.
MacArthur and Grace Community Church have secured attorneys Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri of the Thomas More Society as legal counsel.
“Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community church are not disobeying the Constitution; it is California’s Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that are defying their constitutional obligation to protect religious freedom and church assembly,” Ellis said in a statement. “Church is essential, and the government has no power to arbitrate whether religious organizations are essential. This is not about health and safety; it is about targeting churches.”
Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., began holding regular services July 26. “This is a very special day in the life of our church family. It is for us a return to what we love the most, the fellowship of the saints and the worship of our Lord,” said Pastor John MacArthur from the pulpit.
The video stream of the service showed people singing and sitting near each other, many without masks.
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The church chose to hold unrestricted services after issuing a statement from MacArthur and the elders July 24 explaining their decision.
The statement said Grace Community Church has always stood steadfast on biblical principles. It asserted that the government is charged with protecting civic order and well-being and that “[i]nsofar as government authorities do not attempt to assert ecclesiastical authority or issue orders that forbid our obedience to God’s law, their authority is to be obeyed whether we agree with their rulings or not.”
And yet, MacArthur said, “God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church.”
“As His people, we are subject to His will and commands as revealed in Scripture,” the statement read. “Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.”
The church statement came amid a new round of closures in effect in California as COVID-19 cases have surged during the summer.
Gov. Gavin Newsom in mid-July once again shut down bars and indoor dining. Across more than 30 counties in the state, closures include indoor church services, gyms, nail salons and malls.
The L.A. Department of Public Health told Religion News Service they would investigate and reach out to the church after disobeying the state orders.
“It is unconstitutional for Governor Newsom and the State of California to discriminate against churches by treating them less favorably than other organizations and activities that are not protected by the First Amendment,” LiMandri said. “Pastor MacArthur and his church, as well as all churches, are entitled to practice their religion without government interference.”