In the latest round of the ongoing legal battle between Sun Valley, California's Grace Community Church, Pastor John MacArthur, and Los Angeles County officials, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed that the church and MacArthur are entitled to a full trial on the merits of their challenge to the constitutionality of the government shutdown orders and the preliminary injunction.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction earlier this month after MacArthur's refusal to follow California's lockdown mandate for churches.
Los Angeles County has sought to shut down the church and hold MacArthur in contempt, but Thomas More Society attorneys argued that a final determination on the constitutionality of the orders must occur before the county could seek contempt against MacArthur for merely holding church services.
Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff agreed there are serious constitutional concerns that have not been fully tried. Because a contempt hearing is a quasi-criminal proceeding, the judge agreed that the church and MacArthur are entitled to constitutional protections at any such trial.
Because of California's shutdown orders, the contempt trial is not expected to take place until early next year. A hearing is scheduled before Beckloff on Nov. 13 to consider the scope of the challenge to the validity of the state's preliminary injunction.
"This is significant because no person can or should be held in contempt of a constitutionally invalid order. Los Angeles County continues to presume that its order is valid, with utter disregard for First Amendment protections. It's tyranny to even suggest that a government action cannot be challenged and must be obeyed without question," explained Thomas More Society Special Counsel Jenna Ellis. "This case goes to the heart of what our founders designed for the purpose of legitimate government—not to be above the rule of law. Pastor MacArthur is simply holding church, which is clearly his constitutionally protected right in this country."
Thomas More Society Special Counsel Charles LiMandri said this is a clear case of the county continuing to try to punish MacArthur and the church for exercising their First Amendment rights.
"This ruling prevents Los Angeles County's attempted rush to judgment in its continued prosecution of Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church for courageously exercising their First Amendment rights," LiMandri noted. "We are pleased that Judge Beckloff indicated he agreed with the major points that we made on behalf of Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church and we are very gratified that the judge's ruling today reflects that he appreciates the importance of the constitutionally protected rights at issue in this case."
MacArthur said his team will continue to fight to protect religious freedom for the church.
"We are holding church. The Lord Jesus requires us to meet together and we will continue to do that because we are commanded to and because it is our right. I'm very grateful to Judge Beckloff for providing full due process and recognizing the importance of these constitutional protections. The reality is that the county cannot show that their order is even rational, much less necessary. They have also applied their orders arbitrarily and discriminatorily against churches and we enjoy a heightened protection in America to hold church. I'll continue to stand firm and we will continue to fight to protect religious freedom for the church."
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