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California church that refused to close for COVID gets $800,000 from state, county to settle suit

Los Angeles County had already spent $950,000 on legal fees prior to the settlement.

Updated: August 31, 2021 - 4:58pm

The state of California and Los Angeles County are each paying $400,000 to end litigation by Grace Community Church alleging that COVID-19 restrictions on in-person worship infringed on its constitutional right to religious freedom.

The county Board of Supervisors approved its share of the settlement at a Tuesday meeting, bringing the total it has spent on the litigation to $1.35 million, City News Service reports. The settlement money is coming out of its public health budget.

Thomas More Society special counsel Jenna Ellis also announced the "total win" for the megachurch and Pastor John MacArthur on Twitter.

"It has been a hard-fought battle to preserve religious liberty and we hope that this result will encourage Californians, and all Americans, to continue to stand firm that church is essential," she said with her co-counsel Charles LiMandri.

The church announced in August 2020 that it had retained Ellis and LiMandri following a cease-and-desist order that carries a daily fine of $1,000 or arrest if it continues to hold in-person services. It quickly sued the state and county and continued meeting in person after both a temporary legal victory and a court injunction that forbade the church from meeting.

Grace Community Church sought to overturn the injunction earlier this year, citing two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that allowed churches and synagogues to continue holding their indoor services, subject to attendance limits.

MacArthur vigorously disputed claims that his services were causing the spread of COVID-19, in a court declaration filed in April. He said that a "handful" of congregants had been hospitalized or died from COVID-19 but that they were not attending services because of their high-risk medical conditions.

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