ABOVE: Thomas More Society attorney Jenna Ellis appeared on the Wednesday afternoon edition of CBN's Newswatch to talk about the church's legal battle over the state of California's order to cease in-person worship services indefinitely. Newswatch is seen weekdays on the CBN News Channel.
John MacArthur, the Los Angeles pastor who reopened his church in defiance of lockdown orders from California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), is defending his much-talked-about decision.
On Sunday, the Grace Community Church leader told his congregation, “The world does not understand the importance of the church,” explaining why he is bucking Newsom’s renewed closures, which came in mid-July across dozens of counties in California.
The restrictions on religious gatherings also include a ban on singing, because doing so would “negate the risk-reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing.”
Attorney Jenna Ellis, one of the lawyers representing the church, said on Wednesday's CBN Newswatch PM, "For the state of California and for any of their officials to tell a church that you cannot perform what is integral to exercising your faith in terms of gathering together, singing and holding your services indefinitely is not only unreasonable and inappropriate. But it is not a compelling interest and it’s certainly unconstitutional. There is no law in California that would allow this."
The attorney continued, “So the church here is simply standing firm, saying we will be open, we are free to exercise our sincerely held religious beliefs that are fundamental rights, that are protected and preserved by the Constitution -- and, by the way, the state of California is obligated to protect and preserve for the church. And instead of that, they’re targeting and persecuting and harassing and discriminating against the church.”
MacArthur appeared on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Tuesday to further defend the reopening of Grace Community Church.
Pastor John MacArthur interviewed on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" pic.twitter.com/LPSfDy54Q6
— Disrn (@DisrnNews) July 29, 2020
He told host Tucker Carlson the Democratic governor’s measures are in violation of the First Amendment, which states Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
“The government can’t intrude in worship,” MacArthur said. “We stand on that amendment.”
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The pastor went on to argue his decision is “sensible” because there are approximately 40 million people living in California and just north of 8,700 residents have died with COVID-19 since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“So in California, you have a 99.99% chance to survive COVID,” MacArthur said. “So why would you shut down the entire state, and particularly when people are frightened, and sometimes, terrified that they’re going to die, shut down the church, where most of the intense relationships in our society exist?”
“We’ve had 21 weeks with no ministry to a thousand little children, to a thousand university students, to junior high students, high school students, senior adults,” he continued. “We’ve had no funerals, no weddings. I can’t go to the hospital. I’ve had to go on the phone to talk to dying people at the hospital.”
Eventually, MacArthur told the Fox News host, he started preaching once again to an empty auditorium. Without making any major announcements, congregants just began returning to the church for services.
Many of his attendees “didn’t buy the narrative,” he said. This past Sunday, there were 3,000 people gathered at Grace Community Church, where “they didn’t wear masks” because they “understand the reality of it.”
“By the way,” he added, “we’re the original protesters. We go back 500 years to the Protestant reformation. We’re still protesting lies and deception for the sake of the truth.”
Attorney Ellis told CBN Newswatch PM she's hoping, "That the state of California will recognize that this is wrong, and that they will simply back off and allow the churches without a fight to continue.”
“You’ve seen governors in states think that they’re the arbiters of what is and is not an essential business or service or church," Ellis added. "And they don’t have that authority. Now in the very beginning, churches – even like Pastor MacArthur’s – were willing for a very brief and limited time to close their doors and comply with orders. We want to be good citizens. But as this pandemic continues, it’s unreasonable and frankly unwarranted to say that a church would need to close its doors for up to a year like some are already volunteering."
On July 24, the elders of Grace Community Church released a statement backing up the decision to reopen. In it, they stated, “God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church.”
“The biblical order is clear,” they continued. “Christ is Lord over Caesar, not vice versa. Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church.”
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