A suburban Los Angeles megachurch will get $800,000 from the state of California and Los Angeles County after state and federal courts issued permanent injunctions over COVID-related restrictions on houses of worship.
The county’s board of supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a settlement with Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, and its pastor, the Rev. John MacArthur, 81, a popular Christian radio broadcaster. The county will pay $400,000 for the church’s legal fees, while the state contributes another $400,000, the church’s attorneys said.
Los Angeles-based City News Service reported the county had already spent $950,000 on its own legal fees in the matter, and that its $400,000 settlement payment would come from the county’s public health funds.
The battle between Grace Community Church, located in Sun Valley, and the state had been ongoing since the start of the pandemic.
Mr. MacArthur railed against restrictions imposed on in-person church gatherings which he said were not applied equally to non-religious gatherings. The City of Los Angeles responded by threatening the church with daily fines of $1,000 and Mr. MacArthur with arrest.
The county then canceled a 45-year-old parking lot lease the large congregation depended upon, a move rescinded as part of the settlement, attorneys said.
The Thomas More Society, a nonprofit law firm specializing in religious liberty issues, represented the church and Mr. MacArthur.
“The church is essential,” said the church‘s attorneys, Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri, in a statement. “Religious liberty and the Constitution won today against the overbroad, arbitrary, indeterminate, and clearly unconstitutional mandates from Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles County. I am so very proud of Pastor MacArthur’s steadfast leadership and refusal to abdicate headship of Christ’s church to the state.”
Mr. LiMandri stated, “No longer can the County of Los Angeles and the State of California treat people of faith like second-class citizens. This result is a victory for all Americans who cherish religious liberty.”
Ms. Ellis is a former legal counsel to President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign and Mr. LiMandri is a partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP.
Mr. MacArthur’s stance against the restrictions did not exempt the Grace Community Church family from the effects of COVID-19, however. On August 29, the pastor conceded that the virus “probably went through our church in maybe December, January, that’s when I began to realize how many people were ill,” according to a video posted to YouTube by independent Christian journalist Julie Roys.
In that video, Mr. MacArthur said during that period he and his wife, Patricia, “enjoyed our own bout with COVID. for about a week and a half and, and we were fine.” Ms. Roys’ website reported, however, that Mr. MacArthur was absent from the Grace Community Church pulpit for three successive Sundays.