“The Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi and Cornerstone Church in Fresno just won large lawsuits against Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose statewide COVID shutdown orders included churches,” the Globe reported Wednesday. And they aren’t the only two big wins for religious freedom.
After state and federal courts in California issued permanent injunctions prohibiting the state or any of its agencies from ever again imposing discriminatory restrictions on all houses of worship, attorneys for Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church announced that the California and Los Angeles County have agreed to pay $800,000 in “prevailing party” attorneys’ fees.
Los Angeles County will pay $400,000, with an additional $400,000 paid by the State of California as compensation for the attorneys’ fees incurred by Grace and MacArthur, the Thomas Moore Society reported.
The lengthy legal battle started when California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered houses of worship to close in March 2020, in a hasty and sweeping response to fears about the potential spread of COVID-19.
In March 2020, Los Angeles Grace Community Church closed its doors because of the coronavirus pandemic. When it announced plans to re-open in May, a federal court upheld the state’s ban on indoor church services.
Pastor MacArthur slowly opened back up in July 2020, and offered an outdoor tent for services, until thousands of his parishioners were attending. But LA County tried to enforce a limit of 100 on church service attendees – a tiny fraction of the megachurch congregation, the Globe reported last year.
“The renowned pastor and his well-known church in Sun Valley, took the stance that church is essential,” the Thomas Moore Society reported. “The court affirmed that position, recognizing the constitutionally protected right of churches to remain open and to hold indoor services in their sanctuary.”
The Thomas Moore Society explain the lengthy legal case:
Grace Community Church, its Elder Board, and Pastor MacArthur have been the target of ongoing unconstitutional religious discrimination by the City of Los Angeles and the State of California, amid the state’s orders to cease in-person church assembly during the coronavirus pandemic.
The persecution of Grace Community Church and MacArthur, known worldwide for their ministry and seminary, was surprising to many. The church and its lead pastor have enjoyed an impeccable 65-year history of serving the Los Angeles community in person and having a reputation for good citizenship and deference to legitimate state authority.
However, the State of California, the County of Los Angeles, and the City of Los Angeles unconstitutionally used COVID-19 as a pretext to attempt to force churches to close indefinitely.
In a series of aggressive actions, Grace and MacArthur were abused by the governing authorities. First, the City of Los Angeles, through a cease-and-desist letter, threatened Grace Community Church and Pastor MacArthur specifically with a daily fine of $1000 or arrest, after which Grace filed suit against the state and county.
California State Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) weighed in: “The Government has no authority to tell people they cannot worship or attend church, and these lawsuits have reinforced the religious freedom that every American is guaranteed under the Constitution. Governor Newsom tried to put the First Amendment on hold, and lost.”
Pastor MacArthur said, “We are very grateful for our Lord’s protection and providence throughout this past year. Our commitment to the Word of God and his church has never wavered. We have simply continued to stand firm, as we always have and always will. We put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ who is the head of the church. Over the past year, our congregation has seen his hand of blessing in ways like never before, and the Lord’s promise has been realized: ‘I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.’ I am thankful for the advocacy of our attorneys, Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri, and this outcome.”
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