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LOS ANGELES (LifeSiteNews) — After months of legal battles, Pastor John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church of Sun Valley has settled with the City of Los Angeles and the State of California for $800,000.
When the health authority mandated lockdowns of churches in the spring of 2020, MacArthur and his church complied. He acknowledged that at the outset of the pandemic the projections of high death tolls warranted a response and that it was “enough to make anybody with common sense” act carefully.
After being closed for a time, the church resumed with in-person worship services. After streaming online services for a number of weeks, MacArthur said that people started showing up again.
As the church openly defied imposed mandates, MacArthur was threatened with jail time for his actions. Appearing on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle last September, MacArthur appeared unphased at the prospect of imprisonment.
“Of course, my biblical hero apart from the Lord Jesus Christ is the Apostle Paul,” MacArthur said. “And when he went into a town, he didn’t ask what the hotel was like. He asked what the jail was like because he knew that’s where he was going to spend his time. So I don’t mind being a little apostolic — if they want to tuck me into jail, I’m open for a jail ministry … I’ve done a lot of other ministries and haven’t had the opportunity to do that one. So bring it on.”
MacArthur was represented in part by Jenna Ellis of the Thomas More Society. On Tuesday, she posted a statement on Twitter: “We are very pleased to see Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s First Amendment protections fully vindicated in this case. It has been a hard-fought battle to preserve religious liberty and we hope that this result will encourage Californians, and all Americans, to continue to stand firm that church is essential.”
The lawsuit on behalf of MacArthur and Grace Community Church began last August in response to the state ban on indoor worship. While protests and riots swept the nation last summer, it was MacArthur’s opinion that if large crowds could gather for political reasons, then it was discriminatory toward churches that they remain closed.
Presiding over a packed indoor service last August, MacArthur began his preaching by saying, “I am so happy to welcome you to the Grace Community Church peaceful protest.”
MacArthur is not the first church leader to defeat the California government over coronavirus restrictions. Father Trevor Burfitt, who is a priest of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), claimed a huge victory last December when a court ruling demanded that “all harassment” of churchgoers by health officials “immediately cease.”
The harassment was “deemed unconstitutional,” and such orders cannot be enforced, according to attorney Paul M. Jonna of the Thomas More Society, which represented Burfitt.
Regarding a separate lawsuit against California’s restrictions, the Supreme Court issued a decision stating that the state’s church restrictions were unlawful: “[G]overnment regulations are not neutral and generally applicable, and therefore trigger strict scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause, whenever they treat any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise.”
As a result of the ruling on the MacArthur lawsuit and other Supreme Court decisions, the California Department of Public Health downgraded capacity limits for “places of worship” from “mandatory” to “strongly recommended.”