Greenville, Mississippi — April 14, 2020. The Center for Religious Expression (CRE) along with co-counsel Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Mississippi on Friday, challenging an executive order by City of Greenville Mayor that discriminatorily punishes churchgoers for participating in drive-in church services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected our lives. Though the need to take reasonable precautions to limit physical contact is at its height, so is the need for spiritual community. Wanting to respect both needs, Pastor Arthur Scott of Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi came up with a creative solution to continue holding church services in these trying times.
For the past three weeks, the pastor has preached from an empty church building into a radio receiver, while churchgoers sat in their cars in the parking lot – with windows rolled up – and tuned into their car radios. The solution complies with CDC social distancing guidelines. It complies with the Mississippi governor’s shelter-in-place order. And it provides an essential service to people of faith.
Everybody wins, right?
City of Greenville doesn’t think so. The mayor issued an executive order of his own, prohibiting churches specifically from holding drive-in church services – despite allowing restaurants like Sonic to sell food via drive-in and drive-thru (with their windows rolled down).
And last Wednesday, the City showed it meant business, sending 8 police officers to issue $500 tickets to each person present in their cars at the church.
The lawsuit filed by CRE points out the discriminatory and nonsensical nature of Greenville’s discriminatory ban and seeks emergency relief so members of Temple Baptist Church can safely worship together. And today, the United States Department of Justice weighed in, filing a statement in the case in support of the church. The statement can be viewed here.
“Emergencies don’t allow the government to discriminatorily ban worship services that fully comply with health guidelines.” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “If you can get a hotdog at Sonic in a parked car, you should be able to get the Gospel at Temple Baptist Church in a parked car. The First Amendment does not tolerate imposing special burdens on the exercise of religion.”
Center for Religious Expression is a servant-oriented, non-profit 501(c)(3) Christian legal organization dedicated to the glory of God and the religious freedom of His people. For more information, visit http://www.crelaw.org.