At least three Christian churches in California were handed legal wins this week in their battle for religious freedom.
Grace Community Church (led by Rev. John MacArthur) in Sun Valley won a settlement after local officials sued the church for worshipping in-person during the COVID-19 shutdown. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of the settlement on Tuesday which will result in the county and State of California each paying $400,000 to Grace Community Church.
Though county officials still argue they did the correct thing, the settlement came after the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that California’s restrictions violated the U.S. Constitution. Newsweek reported that county officials said that “resolving this litigation is the responsible and appropriate thing to do.”
It is important to note that Grace Community Church did follow initial CDC suggested guidelines in order to protect its congregation until later in 2020 when restrictions began to lift.
Cross Culture Christian Center (CCCC), as well as the Cornerstone Church of Fresno, were also handed wins this week, receiving a sum of $500k from the state of California and San Joaquin County. These plaintiffs, represented by Dean Broyles with National Center for Law and Policy, were among the first to submit a federal lawsuit challenging the restrictions on worship in California.
“Church is essential,” said Pastor Jim Franklin of Cornerstone Church of Fresno. “We have known from day one that the state was overreaching…This was a long, hard, and sometimes unpopular legal battle. Religious freedom is non-negotiable and we are so grateful for our legal team and that they never wavered in their commitment to us, to our church and to our First Amendment rights.”
Earlier this summer, there were at least two other victories for Christians in California prior to the Grace Community Church win, resulting in over $2 million in settlements. South Bay United Pentecostal Church and Father Trevor Burfitt, a Catholic priest who oversees mission churches across the Kern, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Los Angeles counties, were the victors.
Since COVID-19 started to spread in California early in 2020, the question of churches congregating to worship has been a point of contention. Many news organizations have been perpetuating the idea that churches are “super-spreaders,” despite the fact California was imposing greater restrictions on churches than retail businesses.
The settlements are a great victory for religious freedom in the state of California. Not only is this an issue pertaining to the First Amendment (the right to religious freedoms and free speech), but it also asks the question: Does the government have a right to overreach within religious institutions during a national pandemic for the “sake of people?”
Of course, the answer is, “no.”
Rev. MacArthur, who leads Grace Community Church’s, wrote the following to his congregation:
It is essential that Christians follow the lead of the Grace Community Church and other plaintiffs and stand up for their rights to congregate and pray. These recent judicial victories are vital to the health of the nation because they affirm God-given, constitutional rights that do not disappear, even in the face of a public health crisis.
Governor Newsom trampled on Christians, but his actions backfired. His despotism lit a fire under many individual Christians and congregations who simply refused to comply.
They put their religious freedom first. We should, too.