Los Angeles County is moving to hold John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in contempt of court and be fined a total of $20,000 for holding a worship service Sunday in defiance of a court order.
The church, like many across the nation, argues government officials are violating the First Amendment by restricting religious meetings while allowing similar gatherings, such as protests of the death of George Floyd.
Fox News reported L.A. County officials contend the church’s actions last Sunday constitute four separate violations of a temporary restraining order and a Court of Appeal order. The court, therefore, they say, should issue $1,000 fines for each of eight acts of alleged contempt and an additional $1,500 fine for each of eight alleged violations of court orders.
Lawyers for the church contend the county is violating the Constitution.
“The L.A. County Board of Supervisors has decided to continue their unconstitutional attack against Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church,” said Jenna Ellis, who is representing MacArthur.
“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.
Last Friday, a judge ruled that the church could hold its weekend services, but an appeals court late Saturday night suspended the ruling.
“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 told Fox News on Tuesday.
“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,” he said.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has asked Attorney General William Barr to address the issue.
“Under the First Amendment, state officials must not treat religious persons and groups worse than others, and they must not favor one kind of speech over another,” Hawley told Barr.
The non-profit First Liberty said that in California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom “and local officials throughout the state continue imposing unconstitutional restrictions and discriminatory policies against churches and religious institutions.”
“The battle for religious freedom in the Golden State has reached a point we never thought possible,” the group said. “Just this week, a state judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent a church in Thousand Oaks from gathering for indoor services, in spite of the church complying with safety guidelines and taking preventative measures to keep its congregants socially distanced.
“Yes, the All-Out assault on religious freedom has reached a boiling point, with the courts now abusing their power to stop people of faith from congregating for a religious service!”
First Liberty said Newsom’s ban on singing in church is “outrageous.”
“Nowhere in the Constitution do we find the power of government officials to tell churches and people of faith how they can worship, including whether or not they can lift up their voices in song. Yet, the governor somehow found, discovered or invented this power for himself,” the group said.
“His blatant discrimination is also clear from the fact that his order limited the size of indoor religious gatherings to no more than 100 people, yet he showed public support for people gathering in much higher numbers for mass protests.”