Both Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) and the County of Los Angeles have health orders prohibiting indoor church services. Grace Community Church (GCC) and Pastor John MacArthur 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. On Tuesday, a California judge again denied the county’s legal shenanigans, noting that the health order remains in place. If LA County wants to punish GCC for meeting in person, it cannot shift responsibility to the courts.
LA County could just enforce its existing health order, which imposes a fine of $1,000 and jail time on offenders. Instead, it has sought court orders. The county has asked a judge to find MacArthur and GCC in contempt of court, which would cost the church more than $20,000 and attorney’s fees. That effort failed, but a judge just rejected yet another attempt to secure a court restraining order against GCC.
“As I said to the court yesterday, trying four times to get a court order just to seek huge contempt fines and possibly jail time for Pastor MacArthur shows clearly that LA County is simply trying to target the church and impose punitive and outrageous sanctions,” Jenna Ellis, one of MacArthur’s lawyers and a personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, told PJ Media on Tuesday.
“Nothing about this is truly about health. It’s an unconstitutional power grab,” Ellis added.
LA County had requested a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the court and California Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff rejected its application on Tuesday. Beckloff issued a blunt five-page order, noting that “in the absence of new law or circumstances [LA County does] not overcome the statutory prerequisites set forth for reconsideration of orders and renewal of motions. Thus, the court has no authority to take the action requested by [the county]. On this basis, [the county’s] renewed application for a TRO is denied.”
The judge did not rule on the underlying health orders which lie at the center of a GCC lawsuit against Gov. Newsom. However, Beckloff did deny the county’s most recent effort to slap even higher fines on GCC and John MacArthur.
“The court correctly concluded that Los Angeles County’s renewed application for a temporary restraining order was both procedurally and substantively defective,” Thomas More Society Special Counsel Paul Jonna, another of the lawyers on the case, explained in a statement. “This was their fourth unsuccessful attempt to obtain a court order prohibiting indoor worship services at Grace Community Church. We look forward to fully vindicating our clients’ constitutionally protected rights in subsequent proceedings for this important case.”
“We are very grateful to Judge Beckloff for his reasoned opinion and for taking great care to review this very important matter,” John MacArthur said in a statement. “As I said in my declaration to the court, we see this action against us as an illegitimate misuse of power. It should shock the conscience of every Christian that churches are coming under assault from our own government simply for holding church. Church is essential.”
“We maintain that their health order is unconstitutionally burdening the right of churches to worship, and there exists no rational basis, much less a compelling interest, to try to shut down indoor services at this point, particularly when the county is allowing strip clubs to operate and massive riots to take place — and not seeking restraining orders against them,” Ellis said.
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.
The judge was right to strike down this latest of LA County’s court shenanigans. If the county truly believes its health orders will succeed in court, it should stand by them, not seek extra court orders.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.