LA County Seeks $20G Fines for Church that Defied Coronavirus Restrictions
The county's contempt request highlights the continuing tension
Los Angeles County is seeking to fine a megachurch pastor who defied California's coronavirus restrictions by hosting three indoor services.
The county claims that Grace Community Church, which is led by pastor John MacArthur, should face $8,000 in fines.
An additional $1,500 in fines for violations of court orders is also sought by the county, which totals $20,000.
"Defendants’ actions this past Sunday likewise constitute four separate violations of the TRO and Court of Appeal Order by each Defendant," the request reads.
"Therefore, the Court should sanction each Defendant $1,500 per violation, for a total of $6,000 per Defendant," the request added.
The county's contempt request highlights the continuing tension between churches and civil authorities restricting worship services.
"Grace Church cannot thumb its nose at the court when decisions don’t go its way," the order reads.
But MacArthur's attorney argues the county is engaging in an "unconstitutional attack."
“The L.A. County Board of Supervisors has decided to continue their unconstitutional attack against Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church," attorney for MacArthur, Jenna Ellis, told Fox News.
"The government attorneys are essentially asking the court to hold the church in contempt for being open for worship last Sunday."
"Pastor MacArthur is standing firm that church is essential and has no plans to yield to this tyrannical Board, which is clearly defying the Constitution’s mandate to protect religious liberty," she said.
"Many faith organizations have willingly moved their services outdoors, which is permitted as long as public health guidelines are followed," the release read.
"Unfortunately, Grace Community Church has continued to hold large, indoor services that dramatically increase the potential for COVID-19 transmission.
"Los Angeles County reluctantly, and as a last resort, has turned to the courts to obtain compliance because, unfortunately, indoor services at the church have continued."
The county claims that MacArthur's church refused to allow health officials to access the church to verify compliance with its restraining order.
A judge said MacArthur could hold church services, although an appeals court later blocked the services.
“I never thought I would see the day when government officials in the United States of America would try to hold a church in contempt for peacefully exercising their religion," First Liberty Special Counsel Jeremy Dys said.
He said officals would prefer to fine or imprison an American pastor rather than reach an agreement.
"The law has always required the government to prove — not speculate — that a church is causing actual harm before depriving it of its civil and constitutional rights," Dys said.
Singing in any indoor religious services was banned by the State of California to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in July.
Under the new guidelines issued by the Department of Public Health, churchgoers are not allowed to sing even while using masks.
Below are the guidelines:
Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and may result in increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, especially among more vulnerable populations.
*Places of worship must therefore discontinue singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower. Local Health Officers are advised to consider appropriate limitations on outdoor attendance capacities, factoring their jurisdiction’s key COVID- 19 health indicators.At a minimum, outdoor attendance should be limited naturally through implementation of strict physical distancing measures of a minimum of six feet between attendees from different households, in addition to other relevant protocols within this document.