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Judge rules in favor of indoor church service in Sun Valley

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge will allow a Sun Valley megachurch to hold indoor services as long as masks are worn and social distancing is followed.

Judge Gregory Alarcon made the decision following a hearing Friday over a temporary restraining order sought by the county against Grace Community Church in the San Fernando Valley. It was unclear yet what impact the ruling might have on other churches that wish to hold indoor services despite state and county health orders prohibit them.

A lawyer for the church did not respond Friday following the ruling.

“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, “and 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.”

Grace Community Church closed its doors in mid-March and then, after trying to negotiate with the county,  reopened in July. State and county health officer orders currently only allow churches to hold services outdoors, wearing masks and with physical distance.

The county issued a cease-and-desist order to the church in July and then tried to compel the church to close its doors through a court order. Last Sunday’s mass was attended by close to 7,000 people and the church’s pastor John MacArthur has been outspoken about their stance.

“I’m so happy to welcome you to the Grace Community Church peaceful protest,” MacArthur said from the pulpit last Sunday.

This week, the church and the county traded lawsuits, one from the church challenging the health officer orders and another from L.A. County trying to force the church’s closure.

A spokeswoman with the Thomas More Society Special Counsel that represents the church in the lawsuit said this week the state health order was discriminatory against churches.

“We hoped Los Angeles County would see its error on its own,” attorney Jenna Ellis said in a statement. “But after attempted negotiations with their counsel, California is still intent on targeting churches.”

L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said Thursday that legal action against the church was a last resort.

“We are working hard each week to respond to many of the complaints related to noncompliance,” Davis said. “The county wants to amicably resolve all of these cases including churches. We always look for voluntary compliance but when that is not achieved we have to look at other options.” … He also said public health has investigated more than 1,400 complaints.

The legal fight has sparked fierce opinions across the state both in support of the churches and those opposed. Grace Church is not alone as several others have held indoor mass in defiance in recent weeks.

A group of activists calling themselves Latinos for Trump held signs and demonstrated on a street corner in Tujunga on Friday afternoon in support of congregations such as Grace Community Church.

The group supports re-opening places of worship with coronavirus prevention protocols as opposed to the current directive that requires churches to forego indoor services in place of outdoor gatherings with physical distancing.

“We are supporting the opening of our churches because we think the church is essential,” said Elsa Aldeguer, one of the organizers. “We think that if protesters are allowed to vandalize and destroy the city and the governor has no concern of COVID-19, then those of us who are embracing the lord we should not either.”

With her own church closed to indoor services, Aldeguer said she and her family have been attended mass at a church in Chino Hills where indoor services are allows. For Aldeguer, an outdoor mass is not acceptable because she said she overheats.

“I think it’s very important to my mental state to listen to the word of god. To me it’s essential and it keeps me grounded,” Aldeguer said.

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Source: Orange County Register

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