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Los Angeles County seeks to punish church for indoor reopening with $20,000 in sanctions

Los Angeles County has asked a court to hold Grace Community Church in contempt for holding indoor services on Sunday, seeking more than $20,000 in damages for violating public health orders on the novel coronavirus. Pastor John MacArthur held Sunday worship indoors — the county said there were three services — defying a California Court…

Los Angeles County seeks to punish church for indoor reopening with $20,000 in sanctions

Los Angeles County has asked a court to hold Grace Community Church in contempt for holding indoor services on Sunday, seeking more than $20,000 in damages for violating public health orders on the novel coronavirus.

Pastor John MacArthur held Sunday worship indoors — the county said there were three services — defying a California Court of Appeal ruling the day before that blocked a judge’s order allowing churchgoers to worship in the sanctuary wearing masks and social distancing.

“Defendants refuse to comply, continuing to hold three indoor services even after the Court of Appeal instructed them not to,” said the county’s complaint filed Wednesday. “Defendants willfully disobeyed the Court Orders and are intent on continuing to do so. Grace Church cannot thumb its nose at the Court when decisions don’t go its way.”

The county asked for $1,000 per service per defendant — Grace Community Church and Mr. MacArthur — as well as penalties for violating court orders and refusing to allow the Department of Public Health on the premises, which with legal fees totaled more than $20,000.

The church has sued the county and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, arguing that they have held churches to an unconstitutional double-standard by allowing protesters to flout the emergency COVID-19 orders while taking a hard line on indoor worship.

Jenna Ellis, attorney for the Thomas More Society, which represents the church, slammed the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for its “unconstitutional attack.”

“Pastor MacArthur is standing firm that church is essential and has no plans to yield to this tyrannical board, which is clearly defying the constitution’s mandate to protect religious liberty,” Ms. Ellis said.

Let LA County’s Board of Supervisors know you support our biblical command and constitutionally protected right to meet together and worship our Lord! ⬇️ https://t.co/HdKwHJhIUr
— Grace Church (@GraceComChurch) August 19, 2020

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The church, which also offers outdoor seating and online viewing of services, began offering indoor services July 26, prompting the county to issue a cease-and-desist letter warning of fines and up to 90 days’ imprisonment for each violation.

“They don’t want us to meet, that’s obvious,” Mr. MacArthur said Sunday from the pulpit. “They’re not willing to work with us. They just want to shut us down. But we’re here to bring honor to the Lord.”

The county described its contempt filing as a “last resort,” arguing that the indoor services at the Sun Valley megachurch, which seats 3,500, “dramatically increase the potential for COVID-19 transmission.”

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