Los Angeles County has notified Grace Community Church, led by Pastor John MacArthur, that it will soon be evicted from a parcel of land it uses as a parking lot — a move lawyers say is retaliation for the church’s decision to hold indoor worship services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter dated Aug. 28, the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works informed the Sun Valley-based church that on Oct. 1, it is being evicted from a large portion of the parking lot of the church that has been in place continuously since 1975.
The county warns that if Grace Community Church fails to vacate the premise as required, “the District may enter the premises and remove Grace's personal property in accordance with the Agreement and applicable law, and Grace will be responsible for any resultant expenses incurred by the District.”
Jenna Ellis, special counsel to Thomas More Society, said the move is clearly in retaliation for the church's decision to fight Los Angeles County’s ban on indoor church worship services.
"Los Angeles County is retaliating against Grace Community Church for simply exercising their constitutionally protected right to hold church and challenging an unreasonable, unlawful health order,” Ellis said.
“In America, we have a judicial system to ensure that the executive branch does not abuse its power, and Grace Community Church has every right to be heard without fear of reprisal. The Democrats' message to Americans is clear—if you don't bow to every whim of tyranny, the government will come after you. The Church has peacefully held this lease for 45 years and the only reason the County is attempting eviction is because John MacArthur stood up to their unconstitutional power grab. This is harassment, abusive, and unconscionable."
Over the last few weeks, county officials have repeatedly attempted to get a court order to shutter the church, which has been holding in-person worship services since last month in violation of orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has mandated that churches in some counties refrain from indoor services amid the pandemic.
County officials previously threatened MacArthur with “repercussions such as fines and even possible arrest” if his church doesn’t comply with state orders.
However, a California judge concluded last week that the county’s attempt to obtain a restraining order did not meet statutory requirements and that the Court of Appeals' order did not justify a new temporary restraining order.
The next scheduled hearing on the original lawsuit filed by the church against the county and the countersuit filed by the county against the church will take place Sept. 4.
In a declaration released last week, MacArthur argued that the county is attempting to impede on his and his congregation’s “free exercise of religion by criminalizing activity directly required by our faith.”
“As a church, we have a moral and religious obligation to continue allowing our congregants to gather in our sanctuary to worship the Lord,” the pastor said, adding that the church is the “core of life for thousands from nursery to seniors.”
“Our church is not an event center. It is a family of lives who love and care for each other in very intensely personal ways,” he said. “So essential to personal well-being that people rushed back as soon as they could. The utter unnecessary deprivation of all our people by completely shutting down the mutual love and care that sustains our people in all the exigencies, pressures and challenges of life, was cruel.”
Grace Community is not the only California church embroiled in a legal battle due to state closure and reopening orders.
Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks was recently found to be in contempt of court for violating the state's COVID-19 health orders.
Also this month, North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara was fined $5,000 for holding a morning service and $5,000 for the evening service in violation of orders from Gov. Newsom.