A Sun Valley church and Los Angeles County have filed dueling lawsuits over health orders requiring that houses of worship not hold indoor services during the coronavirus crisis.
Grace Community Church and Pastor John MacArthur brought a complaint Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court against Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles County health officials, alleging they have shown an unconstitutional favoritism in the enforcement of coronavirus regulations to the detriment of churches.
The Los Angeles County lawsuit filed against Grace Community Church and MacArthur, also was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. The county is asking that MacArthur and his staff be ordered to abide by health orders and not conduct indoor, in-person worship and that they require those attending outdoor services to wear masks and stay at least six feet apart.
The county also wants a judge to order that health inspectors be allowed to enter the church to verify compliance with the health orders. The inspectors were denied entry after the Aug. 2 and 9 services, the county’s suit alleges.
The church conducted indoor worship on July 26, Aug. 2 and Aug. 9, and video of the July 26 and Aug. 2 services showed large gatherings of people inside, the county’s suit states.
“The defendants have made clear their intentions to continue violating the health orders,” the county’s suit states.
The health orders are necessary for welfare of all citizens and “immediate and irreparable injury” will occur if the church does not comply, according to the county’s suit.
But the church’s suit states that the American people have begun to see the allegedly unequal way in which the pandemic regulations are being applied by public officials.
“They have witnessed how the onerous restrictions imposed on them by public officials to allegedly fight the COVID-19 pandemic simply do not apply to certain, favored groups,” the church suit states. “When many went to the streets to engage in political protests against racism and police brutality, these protesters refused to comply with the pandemic restrictions.”
Church attorney Charles LiMandri said it is unconstitutional for Newsom and the state to discriminate against churches by treating them less favorably than other organizations and activities that are not protected by the First Amendment. He said this is especially so when the government “has given free rein to protesters and is not similarly restricting marijuana dispensaries, large retail outlets and factories and abortion providers.”
Representatives for Newsom and Garcetti did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
According to the church suit, instead of enforcing the public health orders, public officials were “all too eager” to grant a de facto exception for the “favored protesters.”
Having “irreparably damaged the confidence of Americans — and Californians especially — who now realize that the pandemic restrictions are neither necessary nor good,” Grace Community Church on July 26 decided to resume worship services joining millions of Americans in deciding that “enough is enough,” the church suit states.
Grace Community Church decided that it would no longer sit by and watch its congregants and their children suffer from an absence of religious worship and instruction, the church suit states.
Los Angeles sent a letter to Grace Community Church ordering it to obey the restrictions, but the church will not comply, the suit states.
According to attorneys for the church, Californians should now realize that Christians “are not second-class citizens and the court must step in to do its job applying the protections the U.S. and California State Constitutions provide to every individual equally and to churches in particular.”
The hospitals are not overwhelmed and the death rate from COVID-19 is now extremely small, according to the church’s attorneys.