A California judge has ruled that Pastor John MacArthur and his church are entitled to a full trial in their longrunning legal battle with LA County over Covid-19 closure mandates.
Grace Community Church has continued to hold indoor worship services in defiance of restrictions on large gatherings inside.
The church was ordered by the courts earlier this month to refrain from holding indoor services for the present time, although the judge approved outdoor services so long as restrictions are observed.
Grace Community Church ignored the order by holding an indoor Sunday service as usual.
In a hearing on Thursday, LA County Superior Court Judge Mitchell L Beckloff said MacArthur and the Sun Valley-based church are entitled to a full trial on the merits of their challenge to the constitutionality of the government shut-down orders and the preliminary injunction against them.
The court scheduled a hearing for November 13 to consider the scope of the church's challenge but the full trial is not expected to take place until early next year.
The judge's decision has been welcomed by the Thomas More Society, which is representing MacArthur and the church.
Special Counsel Jenna Ellis said: "This is significant because no person can or should be held in contempt of a constitutionally invalid order.
"Los Angeles County continues to presume that its order is valid, with utter disregard for First Amendment protections.
"It's tyranny to even suggest that a government action cannot be challenged and must be obeyed without question.
"This case goes to the heart of what our founders designed for the purpose of legitimate government—not to be above the rule of law.
"Pastor MacArthur is simply holding church, which is clearly his constitutionally protected right in this country."
Special Counsel Charles LiMandri said the ruling "prevents Los Angeles County's attempted rush to judgment" in its continued prosecution of MacArthur and his church.
Commenting on the latest development, MacArthur said, "We are holding church. The Lord Jesus requires us to meet together and we will continue to do that because we are commanded to and because it is our right.
"I'm very grateful to Judge Beckloff for providing full due process and recognizing the importance of these constitutional protections.
"The reality is that the county cannot show that their order is even rational, much less necessary. They have also applied their orders arbitrarily and discriminatorily against churches and we enjoy a heightened protection in America to hold church.
"I'll continue to stand firm and we will continue to fight to protect religious freedom for the church."