And just like that, there’s another update in the battle between COVID-spreading Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in California and the state officials who want him to stop hurting people. Both sides had sued each other earlier this week over the issue of MacArthur’s massive indoor church services which violated Los Angeles County’s restrictions limiting attendance for such services to 100 people.
MacArthur claimed, without proof, that no one in the church had contracted the virus and that limiting his services violated his religious freedom.
On Friday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order in the matter saying that, since it couldn’t be decided until next month, the church could continue meeting until then… as long as they used masks and implemented socially distancing rules.
There was no reason to think MacArthur would take that seriously, though. The distancing alone would limit how many people could attend his indoor services, and without enforcement of the mask rules, it’s hard to imagine thousands of people would suddenly start wearing them for church when their white evangelical identity reinforces the idea of not wearing them at all.
Last night, in an emergency ruling, a court of appeals stepped in to say, Wait, no, the church can’t meet like that right now.
Recognizing the threat to public health that would come from MacArthur’s Sunday morning service — indoors, without more stringent restrictions in place — the three-judge panel halted the temporary restraining order. They said the government was likely to prevail based on earlier decisions, and the COVID threat was serious, therefore the county’s policies must prevail for now until the case is heard. (That doesn’t stop the church from holding services at all — with the county’s restrictions — or holding them outdoors, which the county is okay with.)
… Were we to issue a stay of the trial court’s order denying the County its power to enforce the provision, the Church would be denied the right to conduct its services indoors, but would be able [to] conduct them outdoors. Were we to not issue a stay of the trial court’s order, the County would be barred from enforcing that provision and the Church would be able to conduct its services indoors, even though indoor church services have been a “source of outbreak” of COVID-19 due to to the heightened risk of transmission when people are “in close proximity to one another for extended periods of time” and that are “singing, shouting and chanting,” risks that “physical distanc[ing] and wearing a mask” “do not eliminate.” As between the harm that flows from the heightened risk of transmitting COVID-19 (namely, “serious illness and death”) and the harm that flows from having to conduct religious services outdoors instead of indoors, the balance at this early stage favors issuance of a stay.
It’s the right decision and one MacArthur will very soon, I’m sure, denounce as a form of Christian Persecution. It’s not enough for him to be able to host services, which he absolutely can. He wants to put as many people as possible in danger, and if the government stops him from doing that, he’ll paint them as the enemy.
As of this writing, MacArthur’s lawyers at the Thomas More Society, including Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis, haven’t commented on the reversal. They’re still bragging about Friday’s victory on their website.
MacArthur’s Sunday service is scheduled for 10:30a local time, so expect outrage very soon.
(via Warren Throckmorton)