A legal battle between Los Angeles County, the state and a Sun Valley church that repeatedly flouted health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic could be coming to an end, with the county Board of Supervisors being asked next week to approve a $400,000 payment to the church to settle the case.
According to a county staff report, the settlement calls for the state to pay an additional $400,000 to resolve the litigation with Grace Community Church. The report, first obtained by KNX Newsradio, indicates that the county has already spent more than $950,000 in attorneys fees and other costs related to the legal battle with the church.
The church, led by Pastor John MacArthur, repeatedly defied county health orders over the past year, most notably by continuing to hold indoor services despite a ban on such gatherings, while also refusing to enforce mask-wearing and social-distancing requirements for church-goers.
County health officials repeatedly cited the church, then took the matter to court to obtain an injunction requiring the church to adhere to health regulations, saying they were essential to control the spread of COVID-19. The church, meanwhile, sued the state and the county, claiming the COVID rules amounted to constitutional violations of religious freedom.
Last September, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff issued a preliminary injunction sought by the county, but the church essentially ignored it, continuing to hold indoor services and violating other health mandates. That led county attorneys to seek a contempt ruling against the church.
Grace Community Church attorneys fought back, filing a motion to have the injunction lifted and the contempt request dismissed, citing two U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In one, a Catholic diocese and a group of Jewish synagogues successfully challenged New York’s restrictions on churches. The high court later struck down the indoor worship ban while allowing caps on attendance and a ban on singing, according to the church’s attorneys.