On Thursday, the legal battle between LA County health officials and a Sun Valley mega church will drag on until mid-November.
Grace Community church has continued to hold large indoor services, with 3,000 people at the time - against the injunction issued by a judge. The church's attorneys are challenging the county and raising numerous Constitutional questions.
There will be a new hearing Nov. 13.
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.
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."
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."