Lawsuit marks latest legal battle involving churches, COVID rulesBy CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A San Fernando Valley church is taking the governor of California and the mayor of Los Angeles to court over alleged discrimination against churches in the enforcement of coronavirus rules.

Panorama City-based Grace Community Church and pastor John MacArthur argued in a complaint filed in Superior Court that pandemic regulations are being applied unequally by public officials Gov. Gavin Newsom, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

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“They have witnessed how the onerous restrictions imposed on them by public officials to allegedly fight the COVID-19 pandemic simply do not apply to certain, favored groups,” the suit states. “When many went to the streets to engage in political protests against racism and police brutality, these protesters refused to comply with the pandemic restrictions.”

Public officials, according to the complaint, were “all too eager” to grant a de facto exception for the “favored protesters” instead of enforcing the public health orders.

John MacArthur, Pastor of Grace Community Church in Panorama City. (Courtesy photo)

After adhering to online-only services and other social distancing measures, Grace Community Church on July 26 decided to resume indoor worship services, joining millions of Americans in deciding that “enough is enough,” the suit states.

On July 29, Los Angeles County sent a cease-and-desist letter to Grace Community Church ordering it to obey the restrictions, but the church will not comply, the suit states.

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The county later also filed a complaint asking that MacArthur and his staff be ordered to abide by health orders and not conduct indoor, in-person worship. Officials say the church must require those attending outdoor services to wear masks and stay at least six feet apart.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Charles LiMandri argued it is unconstitutional for Newsom and the state to discriminate against churches by treating them less favorably than other organizations and activities that are not protected by the First Amendment, including “marijuana dispensaries, large retail outlets and factories and abortion providers.”

There was no immediate comment from Newsom or Garcetti on the suit.

A similar legal battle is ongoing involving Pasadena pastor Ché Ahn, Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which are fighting a city order to shut down worship or face “misdemeanors under California and Pasadena law punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.”

Last week, a Ventura County judge granted a temporary restraining order against Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park from holding indoor religious services.

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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.