The state of California and Los Angeles County have agreed to pay Grace Community Church, led by Pastor John MacArthur, $800,000 to settle a legal battle that began last year when the Sun Valley church refused to comply with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order for churches in some counties to refrain from indoor services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 31 voted to authorize a $400,000 payment to the church, splitting the settlement with the state, which will also pay the church $400,000.
The county has reportedly spent nearly $1 million in attorney fees and other costs since the legal battle with Grace Community Church began, and the county’s $400,000 payment will come out of the public health budget.
According to ABC7, a local news source in Southern California and the greater Los Angeles area, “county health officials repeatedly cited the church, then took the matter to court to obtain an injunction requiring the church to adhere to health regulations, saying they were essential to control the spread of COVID-19. The church, meanwhile, sued the state and the county, claiming the COVID rules amounted to constitutional violations of religious freedom.”
According to Religion News Service, “this agreement, county officials said, was reached in the context of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in February that told California it couldn’t enforce a ban on indoor worship because of the coronavirus pandemic. LA County modified its health order and lifted the indoor worship ban after the ruling.”
“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,” read a statement from county officials. “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.”
This decision comes just days after MacArthur confirmed from the pulpit on Aug. 29 that he and his wife contracted COVID-19 last winter. He also said that “many people” contracted the coronavirus and that “it probably went through our church in maybe December or January.”
MacArthur also noted that the settlement money will not go to Grace Community Church but would go to the Thomas More Society, which represented the church in this case.
“[The Thomas More Society] paid all the legal costs. We haven’t paid one cent for legal fees in all this year and a half. And so that would go to reimburse them,” he said. “… Nothing will come to us except the affirmation that the Lord preserved and protected us through this.”
Franklin Graham congratulated MacArthur and his church on Facebook saying: “Thank you for standing firm. This is a huge victory for religious liberty—it’s a win for all of us! The Constitution has the last word. This situation was an abuse of power by those making the decisions in their county and their state. Pastor MacArthur said this was a ‘David and Goliath story.’ Attorney Jenna Ellis said the message to Christians is, ‘Always stand firm in the truth. And you may be the only one, but in the end you will prevail and you’ll give others hope and courage to stand firm as well.’”
Photo: Thomas More Society