Los Angeles church wages full-fledged battle against County, State; Wins Round 1 in Religious Freedom court case

By Michael Hernandez 

SUN VALLEY—Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church engaged in a full-fledged battle against the County and State has won Round 1 of a Religious Freedom court case on Friday (Aug. 14).  The verdict from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant: “No attendance cap” and congregants can “worship Sunday indoors with singing.”

Grace Community Church (like Godspeak Calvary in Thousand Oaks and Calvary Chapel Chino Hills) has been open for in-person indoor services in violation of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s lockdown orders issued on July 13.  More than 7,000 attended services this past Sunday.

“For this church it has been crazy amazing,” said Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills. “We are reaching the most amount of people ever with many thousands of people coming on Wednesdays and Sundays. We have seen conversions, prayers, and people weeping with joy and conviction. I’ve never seen church like this,” said Pastor Hibbs. The church has doubled in size.

Meanwhile, Godspeak Calvary has tripled its Sunday attendance from 400 to over 1,200 as worshippers have traveled to the church from four states and from counties throughout Southern California.

In the Los Angeles Superior Court case against Grace Community Church, attorney Jenna Ellis, who is also a Trump campaign adviser and lawyer, called the court ruling a “historic win.”  She tweeted: “FIRST CA Court to recognize #ChurchisEssential!”

The Christian Post reported that “the church’s attorneys argued that the county’s demands to comply with COVID-19 restrictions were unreasonable.” A full court-hearing will be held on Sept. 4.

“This vindicates our desire to stay open and serve our people,” said Pastor John MacArthur. “This also gives us an opportunity to show that we are not trying to be rebellious or unreasonable, but that we will stand firm to protect our church against unreasonable, unconstitutional restrictions.”

Ellis had said earlier that Grace Community is “standing on the side of the law against these overreaching tyrants that are defying their oaths of office when they are commanded, mandated by the Constitution to preserve and protect our right to free exercise of religion.”

On Wednesday (Aug. 12), Grace Community Church filed a lawsuit against California and Los Angeles stating that: “When many went to the street to engage in ‘political’ or ‘peaceful’ protests purportedly against racism and police brutality, these protestors refused to comply with the pandemic restrictions. Instead of enforcing the public health orders, public officials were all too eager to grant a de facto exception for these favored protestors.

“It is time for California to recognize that disfavored religious minorities are not second-class citizens. California has no such power to determine whether churches are ‘essential,’ as the federal and state constitutions have already done so.”

According to Pastor MacArthur, “California targeted the wrong groups.” His lawsuit names Governor Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Los Angles Mayor Eric Garcetti as defendants.

(Editor’s Note: To view the 538-page lawsuit filed by the Grace Community attorneys go to: https://drive.google.com/file/d/11z-KS5hWQfFtgFZqZ8h7BVRFBysiiBs6/view.)

The Friday Superior Court ruling came after Los Angeles officials attempted to disallow any form or indoor worship and also outdoor worship that did not comply with it mandates. In the cease-and-desist letter received by Grace Community Church. Los Angeles threatened a $1,000 fine or arrest for continuing to hold in-person church services.

“The Church does not exist to protect people from flu,” said Pastor MacArthur. “It exists to protect people from eternal punishment and hell. We are the stewards of the only saving message that rescues men and women from eternal judgment. The Church in America (has been) afraid to be courageous because it might offend somebody.”

(Editor’s Note: Pastor John MacArthur explained the rationale for Grace Community holding worship services on the church website. See July 24 statement: “Christ, not Caesar, is Head of the Church.”

https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B200723)

Pastor Che Ahn of Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena along with a California church network (including churches in Corona and Irvine and the Harvest International Ministry)  filed a federal lawsuit (represented by Liberty Counsel) on July 17 against Governor Newsom over the ban on worship and home Bible studies.   

“No one is above the Constitution,” said Pastor Ahn. “No one is above the law. As a pastor I believe we’ve been essential for 2,000 years.”  A church statement says: “The church will continue to be, a place of healing for the people—a place of salvation strength love, guidance and the ultimate unity.” (Editor’s Note: To read the statement go to: https://harvestrock.church/official-statement-regarding-the-lawsuit-against-gov-newsom/.) 

Lancaster Baptist Church Pastor Paul Chappell issued a statement on the Biblical Responsibility of the Church to Assemble that states: “As the head of the church, Jesus has commanded us to assemble (Hebrews 10:25), to preach (2 Timothy 4:2), and to sing praise to Him (Colossians 3:16). The church is described as an assembly of called out believers. While the times of these assemblies may vary and considerations may be made for health and safety, nevertheless, the church must not cease corporate worship or we will be in disobedience to Christ our head.”

In San Diego County, Bishop Art Hodges pastor of the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista has led the fight to open up churches in California. He sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and a host of other state and local officials in mid-May. The lawsuit filed in San Diego federal court alleged state and local elected officials have “intentionally denigrated California churches and pastors and people of faith by relegating them to third-class citizenship.”

Attorney Paul Jonna representing Bishop Hodges III stated: “For the millions of faithful in California, religion is needed in these times more than ever. It might be hard for governing officials to understand, especially if they’re hostile to religion or don’t see its relevance.”

In Central California, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow confirmed last month that he would not prosecute churches for holding worship services.  “I declare San Luis Obispo County a sanctuary county for singing and praising in our houses of worship.

“At this time our state is letting tens of thousands of state prisoners out of prison who were convicted and sentenced for very serious crimes because of coronavirus,” said Dow. “It would be, in my opinion, the very definition of insanity if we simultaneously branded a person of faith as a criminal for singing in a house of worship or to charge a person who has simply chosen to practice their faith by singing with their congregation.”

Currently, more than 30 counties in California are not allowed to gather for church services due to Gov. Newsom’s executive order which even banned gatherings of 10 people or more in households on the State’s watchlist.

Legal firms taking on the California governor include the Thomas More Society (representing Pastor John MacArthur), Tyler & Bursch (representing Pastor Rob McCoy), the Pacific Justice Institute (representing Pastor Jack Hibbs), Liberty Counsel (representing Harvest Rock Church), LiMandri & Jonna (representing Bishop Art Hodges) as well as the American Center for Law and Justice and other religious freedom attorneys who also have provided legal services to churches statewide.

John MacArthur Grace Church

Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].


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Michele hartzell
Michele hartzell
1 month ago

I support all the Christian Pastors and churches in CA. And throughout the world for Christ Jesus