Grace Community Church and its pastor, John MacArthur, have chosen to defy an unconstitutional order banning indoor church services in the name of fighting the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. Los Angeles County has engaged in ridiculous court shenanigans to force the church to shut its doors but to no avail. So on Friday, the county’s Department of Public Works unilaterally decided to cancel the church’s lease agreement for a large portion of the church’s parking lot.
“Los Angeles County is retaliating against Grace Community Church for simply exercising their constitutionally protected right to hold church and challenging an unreasonable, unlawful health order,” Jenna Ellis, who is representing MacArthur and the church, and is a personal lawyer for President Donald Trump, said in a statement. “In America, we have a judicial system to ensure that the executive branch does not abuse its power, and Grace Community Church has every right to be heard without fear of reprisal.”
“The Democrats’ message to Americans is clear—if you don’t bow to every whim of tyranny, the government will come after you,” Ellis added. “The Church has peacefully held this lease for 45 years and the only reason the County is attempting eviction is because John MacArthur stood up to their unconstitutional power grab. This is harassment, abusive, and unconscionable.”
The lease concerns a large portion of the church’s parking lot, and has been in place since 1975. Under the terms of the rental agreement, either the church or the county can terminate the agreement if it gives 30-days notice. While the Department of Public Works letter giving the church notice does not cite a reason for the lease’s termination, it seems virtually certain that the move is a form of retaliation amid the religious freedom battle.
The religious freedom battle
Both Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) and the County of Los Angeles have health orders prohibiting indoor church services. MacArthur and his church have challenged those orders in court while continuing to meet in person, and LA County has tried — no fewer than four times — to convince judges to issue restraining orders preventing the congregation from gathering to worship God in church.
Rather than enforcing the existing health order, which imposes a fine of $1,000 and jail time, the county has sought court orders, ostensibly to shift blame to the court but also to penalize the church further. The county has asked a judge to find MacArthur and his church in contempt of court, which would cost the church more than $20,000 and attorney’s fees. Courts repeatedly rejected these shenanigans.
Gov. Newsom has reportedly threatened to cut off power to any church that continues to meet in-person. Yet he is facing a large movement of civil disobedience. A network of California churches sued him last month and many churches throughout the state have vowed to hold in-person worship services despite the state ban on gatherings.
Charles LiMandri, one of MacArthur’s lawyers, noted that California “has given free rein to protestors, and is not similarly restricting marijuana dispensaries, large retail outlets and factories, and abortion providers.”
“Nothing about this is truly about health. It’s an unconstitutional power grab,” Ellis told PJ Media earlier this month.
Why the attack on churches?
In a powerful Daily Wire op-ed last week, MacArthur explained why his church is facing this aggressive prosecution. He noted that in the wake of post-structuralist (deconstructive) reasoning, most Americans believe that each person has a different “truth” based solely on experience, so “it’s impossible to know anything with settled certainty” which means Americans “can’t really believe anything, either.”
MacArthur also quoted Romans 1, in which Paul warns what happens to people who embrace sin and reject God. “Just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:28-32).
The pastor warned that the shapers of culture in music, the arts, the academy, and the media “have indoctrinated recent generations to accept and even encourage every imaginable kind of depravity and radical ‘alternative lifestyle.'”
“We’re not supposed to notice the overtly self-destructive nature of popular moral deviancies or the aberrant subcultures they spawn,” MacArthur noted. So the mainstream media “will, for example, portray months of lawlessness and rioting as legitimate expressions of free speech — insisting that it has been ‘mostly peaceful,’ even though the destructive result is clearly evident to anyone with eyes to see.”
“Meanwhile, nothing is more politically incorrect than religious belief. Genuine faith in God is commonly represented as a dangerous, disqualifying disorder,” the pastor argued. “Just this week, for example, former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, speaking live on a national news network, suggested that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo does not qualify to serve in public office because he is ‘overtly religious … which in itself is problematic.'”
Government policies regarding the coronavirus pandemic offer “more stunning examples of how far our culture has gone in losing its religion. States and counties across the nation have classified places like casinos, abortion clinics, liquor stores, and massage parlors as essential businesses, permitting them to remain open — while churches are commonly categorized as ‘nonessential’ and kept closed. The governor of California and county officials in Los Angeles have shown a determination to keep our church closed, even while encouraging massive political protests by angry people in the streets.”
The attack on religious faith ultimately traces back to human sin and America’s normalization of it. Church is essential, and not just for psychological health amid the dangers of a pandemic and riots. The foundational truths of Judaism and Christianity are the bedrock for western civilization and modern freedom and prosperity.
In attacking religious freedom, Newsom and LA County are attacking the roots of America’s civilization. While this legal battle is a matter of justice, it is also more important than just John MacArthur and Grace Community Church.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.