A judge in California on Friday allowed a prominent pastor in Los Angeles to hold indoor in-person services despite Gov. Gavin Newsom's coronavirus restrictions, including banning singing in houses of worship.
Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church expressed his gratitude to Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant whose order requires congregants wear masks and practice social distancing.
“I am very grateful the court has allowed us to meet inside and we are happy for a few weeks to comply and respect what the judge has asked of us because he is allowing is to meet," MacAruther said in a statement. "This vindicates our desire to stay open and serve our people. This also gives us an opportunity to show that we are not trying to be rebellious or unreasonable, but that we will stand firm to protect our church against unreasonable, unconstitutional restrictions.”
Los Angeles County had sought a court order barring Grace Community Church from holding in-person services, arguing that they were an immediate health threat.
“Los Angeles County’s first and only objective is to save lives and protect the health of our residents and communities,” county officials said in a statement, adding that “we will continue to work through the legal system to ensure that the health officer orders are upheld, as these are the best tools we currently have to slow the spread of this lethal virus.”
The judge set a September hearing on the county's request for a preliminary injunction barring the church from holding indoor services.
Thomas More Society special counsel Jenna Ellis, who is representing the pastor along with the Rancho Sante Fe-law firm of LiMandri & Jonna, points out Los Angeles County, in its appeal, makes "several false claims," including that the order "allows ALL churches to open indoors" and that "without evidence thousands WILL BE exposed to [COVID-19]."
Earlier this month, MacArhur told "Fox News @ Night" he began holding indoor services in the form of "peaceful protest" at his Sun Valley church, despite being warned he could face fines or arrest.
"We feel like we are the most essential reality in the world," MacArthur told host Shannon Bream. "Look, Jesus is Lord ... He is the head of our church. Gov. Newsom is not the head of the church. [Los Angeles] Mayor [Eric] Garcetti is not the head of the church."
The Rev. Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, celebrated MacArthur's victory as "an important win for freedom [and] for our Constitutional right to assemble [and] worship," in a tweet Saturday.
In addition to MacArthur, a network of churches, led by Pastor Che Ahn of Harvest Rock Church, filed a lawsuit in July challenging the Democrat governor's orders.
California worship leader Sean Feucht has been holding "Let Us Worship" events across the state and nation, taking the church outside the building.
"It is a double standard," the founder of "Hold the Line" told "Fox & Friends" co-host Pete Hegseth about California leadership, "and I would say at best it's hypocrisy and at worst, it's bigotry. You know there's a target on churches."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.