A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Thursday refused to decide whether to hold Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in contempt for violating a ban on indoor worship services, and instead scheduled a hearing for mid-November.
Attorneys for MacArthur hailed the delay as a victory.
“This ruling prevents Los Angeles County’s attempted rush to judgement in its continued prosecution of Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church for courageously exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Charles LiMandri, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, in a statement. LiMandri added that the ruling by Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff “reflects that (Judge Beckloff) appreciates the importance of the constitutionally protected rights at issue in this case.”
However, Los Angeles County officials said that the church “has not been exonerated for its violations.” Instead, they said the decision to postpone a ruling was made simply because of required social distancing measures.
The court cannot “adjudicate this issue now because of court rules prohibiting people from being present in the courtroom to combat the spread of the virus,” county officials said.
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A hearing was set for Nov. 13, in which the court, the county said, “is likely” to schedule a date to rule on MacArthur’s contempt.
On September 10, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted a preliminary injunction against Grace Community Church, prohibiting MacArthur from holding indoor worship services. MacArthur, however, has continued to hold in-person services with congregants singing and sitting next to each other without masks.
The county said Grace Community Church is not only violating the county’s public health order, but also the court’s preliminary injunction.
“These types of large gatherings (especially indoors) jeopardize the County’s efforts to control spread of the virus and keep people safe,” the county said. “Parties cannot violate court orders with which they don’t agree.”
Meanwhile, MacArthur in a statement said, “We are holding church. The Lord Jesus requires us to meet together and we will continue to do that because we are commanded to and because it is our right.”
Alejandra Molina of Religion News Service contributed to this report.