UPDATE: Grace Community Church Holds Indoor Church Services Despite Injunction from LA Judge

LA Judge Issues Injunction Sun Valley Church From Holding Indoor Worship Services

Ameera Butt
September 14, 2020 - 9:53 am
Grace Community Church still held indoor church services Sunday after an LA judge had issued an injunction barring the church from holding indoor worship services in violation of the county's health order which forbids these gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grace Community Church leaders have been defying the county, holding indoor services and without social distancing despite a health order that requires worship services to be outdoors only and with protocols in place.
Recently, LA County Public Works Department has notified a Sun Valley church its parking lot lease will be terminated Oct. 1.
For the fourth time, Los Angeles County had failed to obtain a temporary restraining order against Grace Community Church in Sun Valley. The goal was to prohibit the mega-church from holding its indoor Sunday services, which usually draw about 7,000 people, without social distancing.
An attorney representing the church accuses the county of retaliation and harassment: Jenna Ellis says, in a statement, Grace Community has held the lease for 45 years and contends the only reason the county is attempting eviction now is that the church's pastor "stood up" to what she calls an "unconstitutional power grab."
There's a hearing in the case set for later this week
The judge, in his denial to the order last week, said he found the county's bid both procedurally and substantively defective.
The pastor at Grace Community has called COVID-19 a "mostly harmless virus," that does not warrant court-ordered action.
In an emailed state, LA County released this statement:
"During this unprecedented health crisis, the Department of Public Health, along with thousands of businesses and millions of residents, has worked tirelessly to curb the transmission of COVID-19 in order to prevent serious illness and death among our residents.   It is deeply disappointing that the Court decided not to grant the County’s request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting Grace Community Church from holding indoor services, as it has done several times in recent weeks. We look forward to a favorable ruling when a full hearing is heard on the matter on September 4. It is also important to note that the County’s Health Officer Order prohibiting indoor gatherings, such as protests and religious services, remains valid and in effect. The Department of Public Health continues to ask residents to do their part and, when attending religious services please stay outdoors, wear a mask and practice social distancing.  Together we can beat the spread of this deadly virus."

Lawyers for LA County were fighting for a restraining order to prevent Grace Community Church from holding indoor church services, in violation of health orders.

The judge ruled on LA County’s request for a temporary restraining order banning Grace Community Church from holding indoor services which they have been doing for several weeks now, for thousands of people.

Church attorney Paul Jonna tells KNX they feel churches are being singled out as other businesses are allowed to partially reopen. He tells KNX 1070 there is no science to ban holding indoor church services at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The church is countersuing the county and the state.

LA County officials are not commenting until the judge renders his decision.

A Superior Court judge has affirmed a state Court of Appeal ruling that upheld the validity of Los Angeles County’s Health Officer Order, including the prohibition on indoor church services, which a Sun Valley church has challenged as unconstitutional.

Attorneys for both sides are digging in - LA County wants the church and church officials held in contempt for defying it and supposedly putting the congregation at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. But Paul Jonna, one of the lawyers representing the Sun Valley church points out that there's nothing to be held in contempt for. 

Jonna believes trying to stop a church from holding indoor church services is unconstitutional and he wants the county to provide proof that people attending church are at a higher risk of getting the virus.

Under the health order, faith services and protests are permitted to take place outdoors, but not inside because such gatherings dramatically increase the potential for spreading the virus.  According to a press release, if the court issues the order, any future indoor services could be grounds for a contempt citation and fines of up to $20,000.

A hearing on the County’s request was set for Monday, Aug. 24.

The County released the following statement:

"We are grateful that the court recognized the vital importance of our Health Officer Orders in protecting the public health, and continue to seek an opportunity to work with Grace Community Church to bring its services into compliance. This is a matter of life and death for our most vulnerable residents as we continue to battle this pandemic."

Earlier this week, the Sun Valley church said they are planning to hold indoor services,  despite the most recent court ruling in an ongoing battle over COVID-19 restrictions.

The pastor that defied state orders by holding indoor worship services, launched a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Attorney General, and Mayor Garcetti, alleging that the enforcement of regulations due to COVID-19 is detrimental to houses of worship.

The Grace Community Church is claiming that there is unconstitutional favoritism in the enforcement of regulations. California Gov. Newsom has denied any such favoritism and says the restrictions are in place to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The pastor is claiming Gov. Newsom, Xavier Becerra and Mayor Garcetti have violated the Constitution by singling out houses of worship.

The plaintiffs' attorney accuses the state of treating churches less favorably that other organizations and activities that are not protected by the First Amendment.

Grace Community Church is among other churches in the Southern California region where church services are still being held indoors like the Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks. As recently as this week, a judge declined to order the closure of Godspeak Calvary Chapel as it continues to hold indoor church services.

Previously, Newsom has ordered the closure of fitness centers, houses of worship, hair salons and barbershops indoors, nail salons in those counties on the state monitoring list, which includes LA County, and other counties across the state. 

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County announced it has filed a lawsuit seeking full compliance by Grace Community Church to follow public health orders in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep church members and residents safe and healthy.

"The County took this action reluctantly, after working with the church for several weeks in hopes of gaining voluntary compliance with the Health Officer Orders, which allow for religious services to be held outdoors in order to slow the spread of a deadly and highly contagious virus," a press release said.

While not commenting on the specifics of the lawsuit--or on a lawsuit filed by the church against California’s governor and other elected and public health officials--the Department of Public Health released the following statement:

"We are working hard each week to respond to the many complaints related to non-compliance. The County always wants to amicably resolve these issues with all members of the community, including churches.  We use education as the primary step in gaining compliance; however, when compliance is not achieved, we must use the other tools at our disposal. For the health and safety of both worshippers and the wider community, indoor worship services have been prohibited within the County since mid-July. This was a result of a California Department of Public Health mandate and many faith organizations have demonstrated great leadership and compassion by following the health officer orders and keeping their congregations and the broader community safe.

COVID-19 is a highly infectious virus and it is easily transmitted indoors, in crowds and when people are talking, raising their voices or singing. Research shows that gatherings outdoors with participants maintain physical distance and wearing facemasks are less risky."