Following their fourth failed attempt last Tuesday to force Christians from peaceably gathering together for worship services, Los Angeles County issued a letter to Grace Community Church evicting them from a portion of their parking lot.
“…the District is exercising its right to terminate the Agreement by giving a minimum of 30-day written notice of intention to terminate,” the letter dated August 28th reads.
The letter does not indicate any reason for the County’s decision to terminate its 45-year-long lease with the church. It only cites the right of LA County Flood Control District to terminate the lease at any time.
The termination will go into effect on October 1st, by which time Grace Community Church must have removed all personal property.
Grace Community Church, led by Pastor John MacArthur, has been in legal battles with the County of Los Angeles since July when the church re-opened its doors to congregants in violation of continued COVID-19 shutdowns.
The church had voluntarily shut down to protect their congregants and the Los Angeles community from the coronavirus pandemic in March, and remained closed through the first half of July. During that time, the church engaged in community outreach, such as providing groceries to hungry families, continuing its prison ministry, and even assisting the city during summer protests. The church has received awards for their efforts in the community.
On July 23rd, the board of elders at Grace Community Church voted unanimously to reopen the church. Shortly afterward, they received a letter from the County threatening fines of up to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to 30 days if they did not cease their meetings.
MacArthur and his board of elders stood their ground, arguing that the government has no authority to trample the First Amendment rights of the church to assemble. The church issued a statement defending this belief:
“…when any government official issues orders regulating worship (such as bans on singing, caps on attendance, or prohibitions against gatherings and services), he steps outside the legitimate bounds of his God-ordained authority as a civic official…”
The county has argued that their mandates on attendance numbers and even bans on singing indoors are all in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that the health of the county reigns supreme above the church’s right to meet together.
Last Tuesday, the battle went to the California Superior Court, where Los Angeles County was seeking a temporary restraining order against Grace Community Church. In a 5-page opinion, Judge Mitchell Beckloff denied the County’s request, concluding that the application did not meet statutory requirements.
Pastor MacArthur was thankful to Judge Beckloff for the decision, and called the county’s actions “an illegitimate misuse of power.”
“It should shock the conscience of every Christian that churches are coming under assault from our own government simply for holding church,” MacArthur stated. “Church is essential.”
For an eviction of the church from property leased for 45 years to follow on the heels of this ruling, without any separate cause being cited, raises red flags.
Jenna Ellis, Special Counsel to Thomas More Society (the law firm representing Grace Community Church), called the eviction a measure of retaliation. She defended the church’s actions in continuing to meet together as a “constitutionally protected right.”
“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 or reprisal,” she said.
“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.”
The next hearing for the church and the county is scheduled for September 4th in Los Angeles Superior Court.