County Lawyers Argue Against Complete Lifting of Injunction Against Church

GLENDALE (CNS) - Lawyers for Los Angeles County state in new court papers that a preliminary injunction issued by a judge last summer directing a Sun Valley church to refrain from holding indoor church services should be modified only to allow 25% capacity.

The county lawyers are challenging a motion by attorneys for Grace Community Church, who cite two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions in their argument to lift the preliminary injunction in its entirety.

The preliminary injunction was issued Sept. 10 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff as a way of stemming the spread of the coronavirus. The measure also directed the church to direct congregation members to wear masks and practice physical distancing if the house of worship decided to hold outdoor services.

Beckloff said the “potential consequences of community spread of COVID-19 and concomitant risk of death to members of the community, associated and unassociated with the church, outweighs the harm that flows from the restriction on indoor worship caused by the (Los Angeles County) health order.''

The case is now before Glendale Superior Court Judge Ralph C. Hofer, who is scheduled to hear the church's motion on April 9, as well as decide whether the Roscoe Boulevard church and its pastor, John MacArthur, should be held in contempt for holding indoor services in violation of Beckloff's September court order.

Church lawyers state in their court papers that in the first of two U.S. Supreme Court opinions, a Catholic diocese and a group of Jewish synagogues challenged New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's restrictions on churches and won.

Then, on Feb. 5, the high court struck down the indoor worship ban while allowing caps on attendance and a ban on singing, according to the Grace Community Church attorneys' court papers.

However, lawyers for the county state in their court papers that this case actually supports their position and refutes that of the church because the high court “expressly refused to enjoin'' California's 25% capacity restriction on indoor worship that was established in February after the complete indoor ban was lifted.

“This is the identical restriction now in place under the county order,'' the county lawyers state in their court papers. “There is no basis for this court to grant sweeping relief that the Supreme Court was unwilling to grant in February.''

Other aspects of the preliminary injunction -- wearing masks, social distancing and permitting county health inspectors to enter the church and ensure compliance with the health orders -- are unaffected by the Supreme Court decisions, the county attorneys argue.

“With the vaccine rollout underway, there is a light at the end of the tunnel,'' the county lawyers state in their court papers. “In the meantime, defendants may still worship, subject to limited restrictions, but as set forth in the declaration of the county health officer. Defendants' compliance remains essential to helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives. The court should not give defendants judicial approval by dissolving the (injunction) for their dangerous and irresponsible conduct.''

The church has its own suit against the county that is awaiting trial in Glendale Superior Court.

Photo: Getty Images

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