‘Your recent order prohibiting drive-in services leaves him in reasonable fear that he and his church members will be fined and criminally prosecuted…’
UPDATE: Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Greenville’s Temple Baptist Church filed suit in federal district court Friday to challenge Mayor Errick Simmons’ April 7 executive order that bans drive-in church services until the Mississippi governor lifts a statewide shelter-in-place order prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s order includes no such ban and identifies churches as an “essential business or operation.”
ORIGINAL STORY: (Claire Russel, Liberty Headlines) A Mississippi church threatened to take legal action against the city of Greenville on Thursday, accusing local government officials of “targeting” its drive-in services and violating its constitutional rights.
King James Bible Baptist Church sent a letter to Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons through First Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit conservative legal group, asking Simmons to lift his order banning drive-in church services.
“The prohibition is … unlawful because it treats houses of worship less favorably than similarly situated entities,” said First Liberty Special Counsel Jeremy Dys in the letter.
“For example, the prohibition does not apply to restaurants that provide drive through or take out service,” Dys continued. “Nor does it apply to establishments such as Walmart, where far more people park with more contact and less oversight.”
The services do not violate Mississippi’s social distancing guidelines, the church said, so there is no medical or legal reason that justifies shutting them down.
“Your recent order prohibiting drive-in services leaves him in reasonable fear that he and his church members will be fined and criminally prosecuted for merely engaging in drive-in church services that fall well within the CDC guidelines,” the letter said. “We require Greenville, Mississippi, to withdraw the unconstitutional order that, disturbingly, targets religious exercise.”
The church said its members do not leave their cars during the drive-in services, and that all congregants maintain the proper 6-foot social distancing required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There have been maybe seven or eight cars total at these services, according to the First Liberty Counsel. But Simmons said he will not lift his ban on drive-in services until Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves lifts the state’s shelter-in-place order.
The Greenville Police reportedly ticketed every car in the lot of a nearby congregation a few weeks ago, according to First Liberty Counsel, which has led King James Bible Baptist Church to fear gathering on Easter Sunday, one of the holiest Christian holidays.
As such, Simmons’s order is “draconian and unconstitutional,” according to Dys.
“The Church recognizes that you are dealing with a tremendously difficult situation, and it applauds you for your work to protect the city and its residents,” he wrote in the letter.
“The Church will continue to work with you and the City to keep everyone safe and well,” Dys added. “Even so, the prohibition against drive-in church services for Easter goes beyond the CDC’s requirements and violates the First Amendment.”