The city of Los Angeles has issued a cease-and-desist letter to Grace Community Church and its pastor, John MacArthur, for continuing indoor worship services, threatening a daily $1000 fine or MacArthur’s arrest, according to a press release the church’s legal counsel released on Wednesday.
“The state has absolutely no power to impose the restrictions it is demanding,” said Jenna Ellis, one of the attorneys representing the church. “This is not about health and safety, it is about targeting churches.”
On July 13, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered churches in 30 counties including Los Angeles County, where MacArthur’s church is located, to stop all indoor services indefinitely. In response, MacArthur and his church continued meeting and issued a public statement declaring their freedom to worship.
“It has never been the prerogative of civil government to order, modify, forbid, or mandate worship,” said MacArthur and the church’s elder board in their statement. “Freedom of worship is a command of God, not a privilege granted by the state.”
Now, the city of Los Angeles is punishing the church for its decision to continue gathering. In addition to fines and threats of arrest, Mayor Eric Garcetti has shown himself willing to use other tactics to keep residents from breaking shutdown orders. Back in April, he warned that he’d given the Department of Water and Power permission to shut off utilities for nonessential businesses that were operating in defiance of restrictions.
On its legal defense team, Grace Community Church is represented by Thomas More Society lawyer Charles LiMandri, as well as Jenna Ellis, who also serves as private legal counsel to President Trump and senior legal advisor to the Trump 2020 campaign.
“It is unconstitutional for Governor Newsom and the State of California to discriminate against churches by treating them less favorably than other organizations and activities that are not protected by the First Amendment,” LiMandri said.