A judge said Wednesday that pending the supervising judge’s approval, he will decide if a preliminary injunction he issued last summer against a Sun Valley church that flouted coronavirus health mandates should be dissolved and whether contempt proceedings against the house of worship and its pastor should not go forward.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff told lawyers for Los Angeles County and Grace Community Church that he will need final approval from Supervising Judge David Cowan to make sure he is complying with local rules by hearing both issues since part of the dueling litigation is being heard by Glendale Superior Court Judge Ralph C. Hofer.
The county lawyers are challenging a motion by attorneys for Grace Community Church, who cite two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions in their argument to lift the preliminary injunction in its entirety and end the county’s contempt effort.
The preliminary injunction was issued last Sept. 10 by Beckloff as a way of stemming the spread of the coronavirus, based in part on evidence presented by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Los Angeles County sued the church Aug. 14.
The injunction ordered the church to direct congregation members to wear masks and practice physical distancing if the house of worship decided to hold outdoor services.
Beckloff said at the time that the “potential consequences of community spread of COVID-19 and concomitant risk of death to members of the community, associated and unassociated with the church, outweighs the harm that flows from the restriction on indoor worship caused by the (Los Angeles County) health order.”
The county then sought contempt proceedings against the Roscoe Boulevard church and its pastor, John MacArthur, for holding indoor services and for not enforcing masking and social distancing in violation of Beckloff’s September court order. Because the county subsequently allowed indoor church services amid declining COVID-19 infection rates, county lawyers now want the church and pastor found in contempt only on the masking and social distancing issues and for the preliminary injunction to be enforced for 25% indoor capacity.
Church lawyers state in their court papers that in the first of two U.S. Supreme Court opinions, a Catholic diocese and a group of Jewish synagogues challenged New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on churches and won.
Then, on Feb. 5, the high court struck down the indoor worship ban while allowing caps on attendance and a ban on singing, according to the Grace Community Church attorneys’ court papers.
However, lawyers for the county state in their court papers that this case actually supports their position and refutes that of the church because the high court “expressly refused to enjoin” California’s 25% capacity restriction on indoor worship that was established in February after the complete indoor ban was lifted.
The church has its own suit against the county that is awaiting trial in Glendale Superior Court.
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