LA County to pay $400,000 to settle with San Fernando Valley church that defied coronavirus orders

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors connected Tuesday, Aug. 31, approved a $400,000 colony with a San Fernando Valley religion that had defied the county’s wellness bid done the heavy of the pandemic.

The colony with Grace Community Church successful Sun Valley, which besides includes different $400,000 from the authorities —  avoids further litigation implicit the substance astatine a clip erstwhile the U.S. Supreme Court’s blimpish bulk has signaled that rights to spiritual signifier indoors outweigh the interests of the authorities to compel places of worship to adhere to nationalist wellness orders.

In February, the precocious tribunal struck down the all-out prohibition connected indoor services aft a bid of California churches brought a case. But it allowed authorities to permission successful spot capableness limits and bans connected singing and chanting.

In that context, the county’s ineligible conflict with the religion has recovered its mode to a settlement, arsenic houses of worship person gone backmost to concern successful the aftermath of the lifting of galore mandates connected June 15.

“After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that immoderate nationalist wellness information measures could not use to houses of worship, resolving this litigation is the liable and due happening to do,” work a connection from the county’s counsel. “From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles County has been committed to protecting the wellness and information of its residents. We are grateful to the county’s religion organizations for their continued concern to support their congregants and the full assemblage harmless and protected from COVID-19.”

It was a agelong and winding roadworthy to get to the ineligible resolution, tapping into galore of the issues that person polarized American nine since the pandemic took clasp aboriginal successful 2020.

Grace Community Church Pastor John MacArthur preaches connected Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. An appeals tribunal has ordered Grace Community Church successful Sun Valley not to clasp indoor services. (Video screengrab via Facebook)

The church, led by Pastor John MacArthur, continually defied region wellness orders implicit the past year. The religion held indoor services contempt the county’s prohibition connected specified gatherings. Church officials refused to enforce mask-wearing and social-distancing requirements for its ample congregation — members of which were mostly supportive of the church’s pushback.

By December, erstwhile the region yet modified its wellness order, allowing houses of worship to erstwhile again big services wrong their buildings. Even then, the ruling was seen arsenic vindication aft months of defying the erstwhile region order, which aligned with the state’s guidelines, allowing lone outdoor services, with strict carnal distancing.

“It’s a victory,” thankful congregant Leon Felipe said astatine the time. “We request to worship. We request to beryllium together, with our brothers and sisters. We request that. It’s not conscionable different happening to do. It’s worship.”

Up to that point, the region repeatedly cited the church, which prompted region officials to question an injunction requiring the religion to adhere to wellness regulations, saying they were indispensable to power the dispersed of COVID-19. In response, the church, meanwhile, sued the authorities and the county, claiming the COVID rules amounted to law violations of spiritual freedom.

At the halfway of the ineligible battle, which played retired successful the Los Angeles Superior Court country of Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff, was the question implicit whether determination a “compelling” governmental involvement to prohibit the indoor services. The region argued that the order, issued by County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis, did not people religion, but alternatively took purpose astatine the dispersed of the coronavirus — an unwellness that has leveled disconnected successful caller weeks precisely due to the fact that of the stepped-up order, attorneys said.

“Religion doesn’t trump nationalist wellness and safety, particularly nether these circumstance,” said Amnon Siegel, the lawyer for the region during a proceeding successful September, digging backmost to humanities cases, authorities and federal, successful which courts sided with nationalist wellness orders connected the request for vaccinations. Statutes, the region argued, springiness section wellness authorities to act, successful portion with authorization granted by the county’s Board of Supervisors.

People get for the Sunday 8:30 a.m. work astatine Grace Community Church successful Sun Valley connected December 20, 2020. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

But the religion contended that it was pursuing information precautions, including requiring masks and societal distancing. In fact, argued lawyer Jenna Ellis, the workout of the statutory powerfulness was excessively broad. Ellis astatine the clip was besides elder ineligible advisor for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

“If nationalist information ever outweighed liberty, past we’d ne'er person liberty,” she told the tribunal astatine the time, an statement that paralleled with the statement of religion lawyer Charles LiMandri. He argued that the wellness orders were untenable sentiment and policy, which unfairly chipped distant astatine the quality to workout the astir cardinal close astatine a clip erstwhile the hazard of harm was leveling off.

The microorganism itself would lone get worse, with COVID-19 caseloads and deaths hitting their highest levels days successful the months aft that hearing.

Beckloff would yet issue a preliminary injunction sought by the county, saying the “potential consequences of assemblage dispersed of COVID-19 and concomitant hazard of decease to members of the community, associated and unassociated with the church, outweighs the harm that flows from the regularisation connected indoor worship caused by the (Los Angeles County) wellness order.”

But the religion fundamentally ignored the injunction, continuing to clasp indoor services and violating different wellness mandates. That led region attorneys to question a contempt ruling against the church.

Church attorneys fought back, filing a question to person the injunction lifted and the contempt petition dismissed, citing 2 U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In one, a Catholic diocese and a radical of Jewish synagogues successfully challenged New York’s restrictions connected churches. The precocious tribunal aboriginal struck down the indoor worship prohibition portion allowing caps connected attendance and a prohibition connected singing, according to the church’s attorneys.

In a missive to supporters of the John MacArthur Charitable Trust, obtained by The Los Angeles Times, MacArthur called the colony a “monumental victory” and said “there is nary condition that tin origin the religion to close. The religion is not lone a gathering but is the bride of Christ and exists to proclaim the truth.”

The county’s $400,000 outgo volition travel retired of the nationalist wellness budget.

City News Service contributed to this story.

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