Brief filed Supporting Free Exercise Right of Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church to Conduct In-Person, Indoor Church Services County of Los Angeles, et al. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County (California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Two)
You may be following the continuing battle between Grace Community Church Pastor John MacArthur and Los Angeles County. We have now filed a brief supporting the church.
On March 19, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency based on COVID-19, and issued a shelter-at-home order. Thereafter, Los Angeles issued an order banning in-person, indoor services in Los Angeles County. For many weeks, Grace Community Church voluntarily chose to suspend in-person services.
However, as the ban dragged on for 20 weeks, the elders of the Church decided that they must reopen, which they did, beginning July 26, 2020 and continuing since then. The Elders released a theological explanation of their action in a statement entitled “Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church: A Biblical Case for the Church’s Duty to Remain Open.”
In mid-August, Los Angeles County filed suit seeking an injunction against the Church services, and the Church filed its own suit against the County to remove the ban. A trial court gave the Church a victory one day, only to have the Court of Appeal reverse it the next. Since then, Los Angeles County has filed to hold the Church and Pastor MacArthur in contempt and be fined, but the trial court has allowed services to continue.
On August 25, 2020, we filed an amicus brief in a California appellate court in support of Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church.
In various papers filed in court, the Church has asserted, inter alia, that the ban violates Article I, section 4 of the California Constitution (free exercise of religion), and asks the Court to apply “strict scrutiny” interest balancing.
Our amicus brief takes a different approach, asking the Court not to use any judge-empowering interest balancing test, but rather to seek out the “text, history, and tradition” of the free exercise clause. Our brief analyzes the historical basis of the free exercise protection, including writings of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, and urges the Court to determine that Los Angeles has no jurisdiction whatsoever to prohibit religious services.