LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A church in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Sun Valley says its facing “unconstitutional religious discrimination” over the statewide orders banning houses of worship from holding indoor services.
Grace Community Church has taken on several attorneys and said last week it plans on pursuing legal action.
“We will obey God rather than men,” Pastor John MacArthur said in messages posted on the church’s website.
MacArthur has questioned the constitutionality of mandates which keeps churches physically closed but do not similarly restrict large retail outlets and marijuana dispensaries. Grace Church says the city of Los Angeles warned it and its pastor that defiance could lead to a daily fine of $1,000, or potentially arrests.
The issue has sparked controversy across Southern California. On Friday, a Ventura County judge granted a temporary restraining order against Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park from holding indoor religious services.
However, hundreds of people filled the pews of Godspeak Sunday and indoor services went forward in defiance of the order. While many worshippers there came without masks and were not social distancing, Pastor Rob McCoy told CBSLA Sunday the church uses UV lights to sanitize the church and follows capacity guidelines. McCoy said he will not close or move services outside.
Some neighbors, concerned about transmission rates, demonstrated outside.
On July 13, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered indoor operations statewide for all restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, zoos, museums, cardrooms and other indoor entertainment venues to shut down.
Furthermore, for the 38 counties that are on a state watch list due to their high coronavirus case count, the shutdowns were more severe. Those counties, which account for about 80% of California’s population and includes the entire Southland, were also ordered to close indoor operations for houses of worship, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms, shopping malls.
Most California churches, mosques and synagogues statewide were first forced to shutter indoor services in mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic took hold. They were allowed to reopen in late May, but under strict guidelines mandated by the state. Those included limiting attendance to 25 percent of the building’s capacity, or a maximum of 100 people, and requiring all congregants to wear masks and get temperature screenings.
However, in mid-July, when the coronavirus numbers began to spike, Newsom ordered all houses of worship in those counties on the watch list to again halt indoor services.