California megachurch pastor John MacArthur has accelerated his fight with the County of Los Angeles and State of California over COVID-19 restrictions Aug. 13, filing suit against the state while claiming he’s not making people show up at his church, they just come on their own.
Within hours of the church’s litigation filing, the county countersued, arguing that Grace Community Church’s compliance with state and county health mandates is “necessary for the health and safety of the citizens of the County and the State as a whole, and immediate and irreparable injury will result if Defendants do not comply.”
In addition to naming MacArthur and the church as defendants, the county’s suit allows room to add up to 100 as-yet-unnamed defendants deemed “responsible in some manner for the violation of the health orders.” Presumably, that would be other church staff and lay leaders, including the church’s board of elders.
The lawsuit filed by MacArthur and Grace Community Church seeks to prohibit the county and state from enforcing what the church calls “unconstitutional and onerous coronavirus pandemic regulations.” It further claims Gov. Gavin Newsom’s health restrictions due to coronavirus violate the California Constitution. It names as defendants Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other state and county officials.
The text of the complaint claims churches in general and Grace Community in particular have been singled out for persecution by the government — all under the guise of a public health threat.
It says the American people “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. When many went to the streets to engage in ‘political protests’ against ‘racism’ and ‘police brutality,’ these protestors refused to comply with the pandemic restrictions. Instead of enforcing the public health orders, public officials were all too eager to grant a de facto exception for these favored protestors.”
The church claims California’s pandemic restrictions are “neither necessary nor good.”
In the legal filing and in a subsequent interview with CNN, MacArthur questioned the severity of the global pandemic and suggested the risk of death from the virus has been overblown. The legal complaint makes a curious claim that deaths from “the COVID-19 suicide pandemic” have exceeded actual deaths from the virus.
The global infection rate from coronavirus now exceeds 21 million people, including 5 million in the United States and nearly 11,000 in California. The known death toll is in excess of 752,000 globally and 170,000 in the United States — the equivalent of 28 congregations the size of MacArthur’s dead in five months.
MacArthur said his congregants don’t believe “the deadly narrative” being given by government officials and media outlets.
In the CNN interview, MacArthur said his congregants don’t believe “the deadly narrative” being given by government officials and media outlets. And he claimed — erroneously — that “there’s more than a 98% chance you’re not going to die of COVID.” He told his congregation that half those who have died are over age 80, “so if you’re under 80 you have a 99.9% chance you’re going to live through this whole thing.”
According to public health data tracked by the Los Angeles Times, 42% of COVID deaths in California have been among residents age 80 or older, but the vast majority getting infected are ages 18-49.
Further, the Times reports of Los Angeles County: “Latinos and Black people have contracted the virus at a higher rate than white and Asian people. The gap is widening. After adjusting for population, Latinos are now 3.3 times more likely to test positive than white people.”
Pressed by the CNN interviewer with public health statistics that tell a different national story than the one MacArthur cited, he said: “I just don’t know when the truth is being correctly represented.”
His church reopened because people started showing up, he told CNN. “They came back of their own volition. This is the most essential thing in their lives.”
He added: “We don’t orchestrate this. This is a church. … We aren’t going to have the people standing outside in a mob. We opened the doors because that’s what we are, a church. … Nobody’s forcing anything. They’re here because they want to be here.” Beyond worship, part of what is essential, he noted, is the 4.5 hours of training children receive at the church every Sunday, three and a half hours in the morning and another hour in the evening.
Asked by the interviewer if he might help educate his congregants about the risks of the virus and ways to operate differently for this time, he said: “I can’t express to them a worry. There’s enough fear going on in this climate. … I’m not going to add to the fear, because I’m not convinced that what is being propagated is reality.”
The church’s law firm released to media a copy of the July 29 demand letter from Los Angeles County. That letter states: “While having the ability to conduct outdoor and virtual services, Grace Community Church conducted indoor in-person services on July 26, 2020, violating the State and County health orders. Violating these orders is a crime punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to 90 days. Each day that you conduct indoor services is a separate offense. Pursuant to the State and County health orders, Grace Community Church must immediately cease holding indoor worship services.”
“The county took this action reluctantly, after working with the church for several weeks in hopes of gaining voluntary compliance with the Health Officer Orders.”
Two Sundays later, on Aug. 9, MacArthur held his third massive indoor service with an estimated 6,000 people present. He opened that service by calling it “the Grace Community Church peaceful protest.”
According to the church’s law firm, the pastor’s statement was met with a standing ovation and extended applause from the congregation.
For its part, the county said in a statement: “The county took this action reluctantly, after working with the church for several weeks in hopes of gaining voluntary compliance with the Health Officer Orders, which allow for religious services to be held outdoors in order to slow the spread of a deadly and highly contagious virus.”
Attorneys representing the church used a news release Aug. 13 to amplify the message of perceived persecution.
“We hoped that Los Angeles County would see its error on its own, but after attempted negotiations with their counsel, California is still intent on targeting churches — specifically, Grace Community Church,” attorney Jenna Ellis said. “California’s edicts demanding an indefinite shutdown have gone now far past rational or reasonable and are firmly in the territory of tyranny and discrimination. This isn’t about health. It’s about blatantly targeting churches.”