LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Public health officials say an evangelical megachurch in the San Fernando Valley that defied county orders prohibiting indoor religious services has reported several coronavirus cases.
A Los Angeles Times report Thursday quoted officials who say there have been three confirmed cases at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley.
No details were provided about whether the cases involved church staff or members, the Times reported.
The cases are believed to be the first confirmed cases since Grace Community Church reopened its doors to indoor services in August.
Officials say they are investigating and working with Grace – which has an estimated 7,000 attendees – to limit the spread of the virus.
Jenna Ellis, attorney for John MacArthur and Grace Community Church, released a statement Friday which read in part: “It has never been the Church’s position that it is only safe to hold services if no one ever tests positive, or for example, if no one ever gets the flu during flu season. Our position has been that LA County shutting down churches indefinitely amid a virus with a 99.98% survival rate, especially when state-preferred businesses are open and protests are held without restriction, is unconstitutional and harmful to the free exercise of religion.”
The news comes as a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge says he is withholding a decision on the scope of a hearing on whether Grace and its pastor should be held in contempt for continuing to hold indoor services.
Judge Mitchell Beckloff says he could fine both Grace and Pastor John MacArthur $3,000 if he agrees with county health officials that they had no legal excuse for not abiding by his orders by holding an indoor service and for staging an outdoor service without requiring attendees to wear masks and observe social distancing.
The judge has asked for briefings from both sides before the next hearing on Nov. 13.