Holly Springs, Mississippi — May 22, 2020. The Center for Religious Expression (CRE) and co-counsel Steve Crampton with Thomas More Society secured an emergency injunction from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals enjoining City of Holly Springs Order that discriminatorily banned First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs from meeting to worship.
First Pentecostal wants to continue meeting as a body of believers on their church property. Cognizant of the coronavirus pandemic, they were willing to comply with social distancing and hygiene requirements and the Governor’s stay-home orders. However, these steps were not good enough for the City of Holly Springs, who issued an order shutting down churches – no exceptions. And, to show it meant business, the City sent police to break up the church’s Easter service and a Bible study, issuing the pastor a citation for violating the order. All the while, Holly Springs allowed people to freely gather in Walmart and similar venues up to 50% capacity. As long as they were not worshipping, it was fine.
So the church could be a church, First Pentecostal filed a lawsuit seeking relief from further harassment by the City. After it was denied timely relief by the district court, the church, with CRE’s help, filed an appeal to the Fifth Circuit on May 15, asking for emergency relief, pointing out the discriminatory nature of the City’s ban.
Mississippi Governor Reeves showed his support for the church, filing a brief explaining how the City’s action contradicted his statewide order. And, the appellate court issued an order today granting the church its needed relief, letting the church meet without police harassment as the case continues.
A shocking postscript to the legal action:
A shocking postscript to the legal action, the First Pentecostal church building was recently destroyed by arson, while the Fifth Circuit was considering the case. Police found graffiti in the parking lot from the culprit, boasting: “Bet you stay home now you hypokrits.” But the church will not stay home; they will not be deterred. Recognizing a church is much more than a building, they plan to meet and worship, starting this Sunday.
“The City of Holly Springs’ actions are indefensible,” said CRE Chief Counsel Nate Kellum. “The city cannot selectively ban church services while allowing retail businesses to reopen, especially when it contradicts the governor’s statewide order. The governor has it right: churches like First Pentecostal Church must be allowed to gather, whether in a building or on open ground.”
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.