Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church won their legal battle with the state of California and Los Angeles County after the governments agreed to pay $400,000 each as part of a settlement for violating the church’s religious liberty during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In July 2020, MacArthur wrote,
“…in response to the recent state order requiring churches in California to limit or suspend all meetings indefinitely, we, the pastors and elders of Grace Community Church, respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.”
He added, “The biblical order is clear: Christ is Lord over Caesar, not vice versa. Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church.”
During the earliest part of the COVID pandemic, California was particularly egregious in the manner in which it targeted church gatherings for discrimination and harassment. MacArthur, as an example, was repeatedly threatened with fines and jail time, and at one point, L.A. County officials evicted the church from a parcel of land it leased for use as a parking lot.
In a series of court cases brought before it by a number of churches and religious groups, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled repeatedly that states cannot treat churches differently than secular organizations. As a result, California has already had to pay over $2 million in legal costs to churches that sued the state over Covid restrictions.
A statement from county officials read, “After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that some public health safety measures could not apply to houses of worship, resolving this litigation is the responsible and appropriate thing to do.”
They added, “From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles County has been committed to protecting the health and safety of its residents. We are grateful to the county’s faith organizations for their continued partnership to keep their congregants and the entire community safe and protected from COVID-19.”
Attorney Charles LiMandri, special counsel for the Thomas More Society and partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP, said, “We argued all along that the state of California can’t treat churches any different than the secular businesses that are getting the most favorable treatment.”
The church IS essential.
Our statement: pic.twitter.com/Rin5W7eA8x
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) August 31, 2021
Jenna Ellis, legal counsel with the Thomas More Society, tweeted: “Very pleased with the approval of an $800,000 settlement and total win for my clients, @johnmacarthur and @GraceComChurch, on behalf of @ThomasMoreSoc. The church IS essential.”
She also shared Thomas More’s statement, which reads,
“We are very pleased to see Pastor John 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.”
MacArthur said that all the money will go to the Thomas More Society, stating, “Nothing will come to us except the affirmation that the Lord preserved and protected us through this.”
This is a vindication of Grace Community Church’s decision to continue holding worship services in the face of government harassment and threats of retaliation. COVID is a real disease, and people should take appropriate personal precautions, but that does not mean shutting down churches for an indefinite amount of time. The Church is essential, and in this chaotic world, believers need to be able to gather together, not just to support and advance their faith and the Church mission but also to protect a free society from any infringement on the God-given rights of its citizens.
As Alexis de Tocqueville so presciently warned: “Tyranny may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot.”