The Los Angeles Times targeted California pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church on Thursday by publishing an article that framed the congregation’s three reported COVID-19 cases as an “outbreak.”
“Coronavirus outbreak strikes L.A. megachurch that defied public health orders,” said the headline.
The church defied county orders to resume in-person services in July. While the Times noted it has “an estimated attendance of 7,000” and only reported the three cases of COVID-19 to “determine whether there is an outbreak,” the paper still used that label.
Jenna Ellis, attorney for MacArthur and Grace Community Church, denounced the article, undercutting its biased framing in a statement. “Three very mild positive tests among more than 7,000 people is hardly news. 0.0004% or 0.043% is not an ‘outbreak,’” she said. “The LA Times and others’ grossly misleading and fear-mongering headlines aim to mischaracterize Grace Community Church as irresponsible and a superspreader.”
The Times report also focused on the “conservative” church’s decision to hold indoor services against the county’s orders and the fact that “thousands of people have attended services, with most not wearing face coverings as they sit side by side indoors, or close together outside under a tent.”
The article also complained that “the church does not screen congregants for symptoms before they enter or require them to follow any protocols.”
“It has never been the Church’s position that it is only safe to hold services if no one ever tests positive, or for example, if no one ever gets the flu during flu season,” Ellis explained. “Our position has been that LA County shutting down churches indefinitely amid a virus with a 99.98% survival rate, especially when state-preferred businesses are open and protests are held without restriction, is unconstitutional and harmful to the free exercise of religion.”
MacArthur and Grace are currently embroiled in a legal battle with Los Angeles County over their constitutional right to assemble and worship. Despite multiple attempts by the county to prevent the church from meeting, in which they imposed fines, threatened arrest, and even terminated a parking lot lease between the city and Grace, the church continued to hold indoor services.
The church’s most recent legal victory came in September when a judge in the Los Angeles Superior Court awarded the church an opportunity for a trial. The next hearing will be on Nov. 13.