Having lost four tries for a temporary restraining order directing a Sun Valley church to refrain from holding indoor church services, lawyers for Los Angeles County Friday tried to convince a judge to impose a preliminary injunction, arguing it would protect the community from a spread of the coronavirus.
After a hearing that lasted several hours, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff did not issue a ruling and instead took the case under submission, saying he would likely have a decision sometime next week.
“I recognize the importance of the decision,” the judge said, noting that he realized both sides will need a clear record for any appeals.
Beckloff said he will not allow Gov. Gavin Newsom to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the county’s stand, saying he did not need it to make a decision.
The county sued Grace Community Church Aug. 14 after it began holding indoor services on Sundays, seeking enforcement of local and state health orders that only allow the services to be conducted outside. The church has its own suit against the county that is awaiting trial in Burbank Superior Court.
Attorney Amnon Siegel, arguing on behalf of the county, said “religion doesn’t trump health and safety.”
The health orders are targeted at stopping the spread of the virus, said Siegel, who accused Pastor John MacArthur and church leaders of encouraging violations instead of urging their members to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Siegel said the temporary ban on indoor services was issued because coronavirus cases in the county spiked, but that it will be relaxed once it is safe.
“We need to take action to protect the community,” Siegel said. “This is not a close call, this is not a close question.”
But church attorney Charles LiMandri said all of the relevant statistics show that deaths are down and that the infection rate is lower in California than in other states where churches are open.
“The coronavirus is dying out,” LiMandri said.
LiMandri noted that Judge James Chalfant, who on Aug. 14 denied the county’s first request for a restraining order, said he might have granted one three months earlier, but that the urgency was no longer present because the curve had flattened.
LiMandri argued the massive protests that came after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked the rise in cases, not people going to church.
“They are targeting the church, they don’t go after the protesters,” LiMandri said.
LiMandri also maintained that MacArthur is not being careless in holding indoor services at the church at 13248 Roscoe Blvd.
“He’s very concerned about the health and well-being of his congregation,” LiMandri said.
Jenna Ellis, another church lawyer, said the indefinite nature of the heath order makes it too uncertain as to when indoor services can lawfully resume.
In his Aug. 14 ruling, Chalfant found that the church could hold services indoors if congregation members wore masks and practiced social distancing. The county appealed and Chalfant’s order was stayed the next day.