- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Los Angeles County has been thwarted for the fourth time in its effort to shutter Grace Community Church for indoor services under the county’s novel coronavirus public-health order.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff rejected the county’s bid Tuesday for a temporary restraining order against the evangelical megachurch in Sun Valley, ruling that the county failed to present new law or circumstances.

Paul Jonna, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, which represents the church, described the county’s request as “both procedurally and substantively defective.”

“This was their fourth unsuccessful attempt to obtain a court order prohibiting indoor worship services at Grace Community Church,” said Mr. Jonna. “We look forward to fully vindicating our clients’ constitutionally protected rights in subsequent proceedings for this important case.”

A full hearing is scheduled for Sept. 4 on the county’s request for a preliminary injunction on the church, which has held indoor worship since July 26 in defiance of the county prohibition.

“It is deeply disappointing that the Court decided not to grant the County’s request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting Grace Community Church from holding indoor services, as it has done several times in recent weeks,” said the county in a statement. “We look forward to a favorable ruling when a full hearing is heard on the matter.”

Grace church and Pastor John MacArthur filed a lawsuit two weeks ago accusing state and county officials of selectively enforcing its COVID-19 order by allowing mass gatherings such as protests but not religious services.

“We are very grateful to Judge Beckloff for his reasoned opinion and for taking great care to review this very important matter,” said Mr. MacArthur in a statement. “As I said in my declaration to the court, we see this action against us as an illegitimate misuse of power. It should shock the conscience of every Christian that churches are coming under assault from our own government simply for holding church. Church is essential.”

Last week, the California Court of Appeal set aside a lower-court ruling that would have allowed indoor services with masks and social distancing, but Judge Beckloff said that the appeals court “did not change this court’s order of Aug. 14—the Court of Appeal stayed enforcement of it.”

The county has argued that the church risks spreading the virus by drawing thousands of largely unmasked parishioners to its mass indoor services, while Thomas More Society special counsel Jenna Ellis accused the state and county of a “power grab.”

“We maintain that their health order is unconstitutionally burdening the right of churches to worship, and there exists no rational basis, much less a compelling interest, to try to shut down indoor services at this point, particularly when the county is allowing strip clubs to operate and massive riots to take place—and not seeking restraining orders against them,” she said.

The Los Angeles County Health Officer Order “prohibiting indoor gatherings, such as protests and religious services, remains valid and in effect,” said the county statement.

“The Department of Public Health continues to ask residents to do their part and, when attending religious services please stay outdoors, wear a mask and practice social distancing,” said the county. “Together we can beat the spread of this deadly virus.”

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