‘Me and my wife were both in the car together, and both of us got tickets…’
(Claire Russel, Liberty Headlines) After facing backlash, a Mississippi mayor issued a statement assuring citizens they would not need to pay the $500 tickets that police issued to them for attending drive-up church services during the coronavirus pandemic.
Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons banned drive-in church services ahead of Easter Sunday, even though such services do not directly violate the federal government’s social-distancing guidelines.
He refused to lift his order, and as a result dozens of Greenville residents who attended drive-in services were ticketed, according to WLBT.
“The police started coming up and we said, ‘Well, we think we’re in our rights,’” said Lee Gordon, a Greenville resident who attended Temple Baptist Church’s Easter service on Sunday.
“And they started issuing tickets, $500 tickets, it may have been 50—I mean 20 to 30 tickets,” Gordon said. “Everybody got one, it wasn’t per car. Me and my wife were both in the car together, and both of us got tickets.”
At least one church in the area has threatened legal action against Simmons if he does not lift the order. But the most Simmons has done to relax his restriction is waive the $500 fines.
The order itself will remain in place as long as the state’s shelter-in-place order is in place, he said.
Simmons accused his critics of launching a “smear campaign” against him, which has resulted in death threats against him and his family, he said.
“This is not a time to play politics, especially with these unnecessary attacks and false narratives,” Simmons said on Monday, according to the Washington Times.
This criticism is necessary, however, when the rights of religious citizens are in question, said Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative nonprofit litigation group that filed a legal challenge against Simmons’s executive order last week.
“It’s disappointing to see the city of Greenville continue this unconstitutional, unwarranted ban on drive-in church services,” ADF said in a statement.
“This church has taken on creative ways to minister to people in its community without access to social media,” it said. “The city’s order is baseless, and so we intend to continue aggressively pursuing our case against it in court.”