(RNS) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (Aug. 31) voted to authorize a $400,000 payment to settle a legal battle with Grace Community Church over lead pastor John MacArthur’s defiance of COVID-19 restrictions in the early months of the pandemic.
Under the agreement, which the board unanimously approved without discussion, the state of California will also pay the church $400,000.
This agreement, county officials said, was reached in the context of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in February that told California it couldn’t enforce a ban on indoor worship because of the coronavirus pandemic. LA County modified its health order and lifted the indoor worship ban after the ruling.
“After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that some public health safety measures could not apply to houses of worship, resolving this litigation is the responsible and appropriate thing to do,” read a statement from county officials. “From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles County has been committed to protecting the health and safety of its residents. We are grateful to the county’s faith organizations for their continued partnership to keep their congregants and the entire community safe and protected from COVID-19.”
This decision also comes just days after MacArthur, during his Sunday sermon, confirmed he and his wife had contracted COVID-19 last winter. MacArthur also said “many people” contracted the coronavirus, adding “it probably went through our church in maybe December or January.”
“Patricia and I enjoyed our own bout with COVID for about a week and a half,” said MacArthur, who was absent from the pulpit late December.
MacArthur on Sunday said the settlement money would go to the Thomas More Society, which represented the church in this court case.
“Nothing will come to us except the affirmation that the Lord preserved and protected us through this,” MacArthur said.
MacArthur, in July 2020, held in-person services with congregants singing and sitting next to each other without masks, flouting COVID-19 public health orders that temporarily banned indoor religious services at the time.
Attorneys representing MacArthur filed a suit in August 2020 against California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state, city and county officials, saying the state’s restrictions on large group meetings and singing restricted its religious freedom. County officials then sued the church to require it to comply with COVID-19 protocols — including barring large group indoor worship and requiring social distancing at outdoor worship.
On Sunday, MacArthur told congregants “the natural immunity that God has designed is the greatest protection.” MacArthur cited a study suggesting those who recover from COVID-19 have more immunity than people who didn’t get COVID-19 and got the vaccine.
“God has a way of taking care of us as we love each other and share our germs,” MacArthur told congregants, who laughed in response on Sunday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in early August saying vaccination offers higher protection than previous COVID-19 infection alone.
The CDC study found “unvaccinated individuals were more than twice as likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated after initially contracting the virus.”