Lawyers for Word Aflame Ministries are suing the city manager of La Habra Heights and a resident, alleging the church is being falsely accused of violating COVID-19 health orders, court papers obtained Thursday show.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles federal court on Wednesday, alleges La Habra Heights City Manager Fabiola Huerta and resident Juan Garcia have “repeatedly falsely accused plaintiffs of violating health orders.”
“Realizing that plaintiffs were beyond reproach in complying with federal, state, county and city laws and public health orders, defendants decided to focus on local subjective noise ordinances to continue to harass and persecute” the church, the complaint alleges.
The city of La Habra Heights responded in a statement that while it hasn’t yet been served with the lawsuit, it is aware of the allegations.
“While it’s not our practice to comment on pending legal matters, we can tell you that the city has made accommodations to support the ability of World Aflame Ministries to offer worship services in an outdoor setting that complies with county public health orders,” the statement reads.
“In fact, in early October, the city proactively offered a special outdoor public event permit to allow outdoor services and other activities to take place, as long as the activities comply with the city’s established noise limits for residential areas,” according to the city. “At that time, the city also dismissed all fines and citations that were previously issued. The city is not currently asking the organization to cease its activities. However, the city continues to ask that the organization maintain appropriate noise levels.”
Garcia could not immediately be reached for comment.
The suit, which alleges violations of free exercise, assembly, speech, equal protection and intentional infliction of emotional distress, contends that La Habra Heights “erroneously gave credence to Garcia’s false accusations and unlawfully joined him in conspiring to harass, fine and cite the church despite evidence that they are in full compliance with state and county health orders and the city’s municipal codes.”
World Aflame Ministries, which describes its congregation as representing a cross-section of society, alleges that despite moving their Bible study and Sunday worship services outdoors, the defendants “have repeatedly and falsely accused the church of violating COVID-19 health orders.”
The lawsuit alleges that county health officials visited the church on several occasions and it was found to be “in compliance” with public health protocols, including social distancing protocols, mask wearing and other requirements.