Monday, April 13, 2020, 4:45 pm
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A Greenville church has filed suit against the City of Greenville and its Mayor, Errick Simmons, after city police busted up the church's drive-in worship service last Wednesday evening.
The church, Temple Baptist Church, is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, and attorney Nathan W. Kellum of the Center for Religious Expression.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction against further city actions, declaratory judgment, and damages. The complaint may be viewed here:
Temple Baptist Church v. City of Greenville Complaint
Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons, along with the city council, passed an order April 7 banning all church services, including drive-in services. This order contradicted and purportedly overrode Governor Tate Reeve's Emergency Executive Orders 1463 and 1466, which specifically protected religious gatherings as "essential operations" which are exempt from prohibition.
The Greenville order may be seen here:
Greenville Order Barring Church Services
Temple Baptist Church voluntarily ceased in-person church meetings three weeks ago, when it instituted strictly drive-in services, in which the doors of the church remained locked and parishioners were instructed by public signage not to leave their vehicles.
But last Wednesday evening, Greenville police officers busted up the drive-in service at Temple Baptist Church and issued $500 tickets to everyone attending in their cars. Thursday evening, police threatened parishioners of the King James Bible Baptist Church with similar treatment, but the church-goers defied the police and the service concluded without further incident.
The lawsuit requests that the court bar Greenville from any actions to further infringe on the parishioners' religious liberty. It notes that the city has not banned any other parking lot activities, including parking lots such as found at the Sonic Drive-in, where cars are packed close together, and passengers interact with store personnel in receiving their orders.
The Greenville city order specifically targeting only church drive-in services is thus more restrictive than that imposed on other essential services and operations, which violates the First Amendment.
The lawsuit goes on to describe in detail how the church's drive-in services clearly comply with CDC directives regarding safe meetings and social distancing.
The suit also points out that the Greenville order violates the Governor's orders, which bar local governments from enforcing any rules that restrict or prevent essential services from being provided, as described by the Governor's orders. Governor Reeve's orders specifically provides that "religious gatherings" are an essential operation and provide essential services.
The suit requests the court to void the Greenville order, find that it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, violates the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and is prohibited by the Governor's Emergency Executive Orders 1463 and 1466.
The lawsuit also requests legal costs and attorney fees for the Church.
John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel
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