Sun Valley church once again holds indoor services in defiance of court order

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Monday, August 17, 2020
Sun Valley church holds indoor services despite court ruling
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A church in Sun Valley went ahead with indoor services Sunday in defiance of a court order.

SUN VALLEY, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A church in Sun Valley went ahead with indoor services Sunday in defiance of a court order.

In a decision issued late Saturday, the California Court of Appeals set aside a lower court order that would have legally allowed indoor services to take place at Grace Community Church on Roscoe Boulevard.

The prior Sunday, the church said close to 7,000 people attended indoor services.

The appellate court ruling temporarily halts indoor services and set a Sept. 4 hearing for complete arguments from both sides in the case.

In issuing the temporary stay, the court said the case involves "difficult questions of law" that could not be resolved in time for Sunday's church services, so the justices opted to leave the ban in place until the hearing.

The ruling garnered praise from local officials. Currently, churches are only allowed to hold outdoor services, with worshippers wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from each other.

"Los Angeles County is pleased that the California Court of Appeal recognizes the vital importance of our Health Officer Orders in protecting the lives and health of our residents as we work to slow the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus,'' a county statement released Saturday said.

On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant had denied almost all of the county's reasons for requesting a temporary restraining order against the church. He agreed that it is the county's burden to show "why they should be permitted to infringe on the constitutionally protected rights of churches to freely exercise religion."

Chalfant ruled that the Sun Valley megachurch could hold indoor services if attendees wear masks and stay at least six feet apart.

Grace church officials could not be reached for comment about the Appellate Court's emergency stay. But constitutional law attorney Jenna Ellis said on Twitter that County officials were using "scare tactics" by saying Chalfant's ruling would allow all churches to resume indoor services, which would increase the spread of COVID-19.

Last week, the church and county officials filed dueling lawsuits over health orders banning houses of worship from holding indoor services during the coronavirus crisis.

Pastor John MacArthur brought a complaint Wednesday against Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Mayor Eric Garcetti and county health officials, alleging they have shown unconstitutional favoritism in the enforcement of coronavirus regulations, to the detriment of churches.

Grace Community Church closed its doors in mid-March. After trying unsuccessfully to negotiate with the county, the doors reopened in July.

The Sun Valley church is not the only house of worship in Southern California to fight back against the restrictions.

Earlier this month in Ventura County's Newbury Park, tempers flared outside Godspeak Calvary Chapel after the church defied a judge's temporary restraining order banning sermons inside. The county had sued the church for violating public health orders.

City News Service contributed to this report.