Mississippi church members slapped with $500 citations after refusing to leave drive-up service

Screengrab KSAT 12

Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi, held a drive-up service Wednesday and the parking lot was full for a sermon delivered over a low-power FM frequency radio.

Unfortunately for those in attendance, their pocketbooks were not as full after local police wrote $500 tickets to those who failed to disperse when asked, according to the Delta Democrat-Times.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, has issued a shelter-in-place order and asked churches not to hold services.

“We believe that churches are essential operations in our state,” Reeves said. “But we also believe that we need to make wise choices and wise decisions and we don’t need to be gathering in groups of more than ten people just because the seriousness of this particular virus and how contagious it can be.”

In addition, Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons, a Democrat, recently issued an order prohibiting drive-up services, WJTV reported.

The mayor told the newspaper a man identifying himself as Temple Baptist Church Pastor Arthur Scott called his office to say, “We’re having church on Wednesday, no matter what.”

And true to his word, the church parking lot was full Wednesday night as members came to hear Scott’s sermon.

Church member Lee Gordon, a representative for the Washington County Board of Supervisors, was at the service with his wife and both received $500 tickets.

He told the Democrat-Times church members stayed in their cars with the windows rolled up.

“The preacher is in the church at the pulpit and we are streaming the service live as well,” Gordon said. “But a lot of our membership is elderly and doesn’t have access (to the technology needed to stream the service).”

He had no ill will toward police and insisted no statement was being made either by the gathering or by the citations.

“The police were respectful and just doing their job,” Gordon said. “They asked us to leave first and those who stayed got a ticket.”

“I think somebody called the police,” he said. “And we were just doing the same thing we’ve been doing the last three weeks.”

The mayor said people called and complained about the church holding service, and insisted that it’s “all about trying to save lives.”

At the same time, Gordon noted that there was a similar gathering of cars not far away that was still being allowed.

“There’s 25 cars 200 yards away all in the same place at the Sonic Drive-In,” he said. “What we’re doing endangers nobody.”

Despite the steep fee, Gordon said the church plans on holding services in the parking lot again Sunday morning, the Democrat-Times reported.

On Thursday, First Liberty Institute sent a letter to Simmons on behalf of King James Bible Baptist Church Pastor Charleston Hamilton requesting that the mayor withdraw an order that targets churches holding drive-up services, according to WJTV.

The church fears that members will be fined and criminally prosecuted for attending drive-up services.

“Your prohibition of religious gatherings of this type and the ticketing of participants, regardless of the precautions taken, is forbidden under both federal and Mississippi state law.” First Liberty Institute said. “Mississippi’s Religious Freedom Act (‘MRFA’) prohibits government officials from substantially burdening religious exercise without demonstrating that the restriction imposed advances a compelling interest by the least restrictive means. The First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause imposes a similar standard when government action targets religious exercise. We require Greenville, Mississippi to withdraw the unconstitutional order that, disturbingly, targets religious exercise.”

The video below reportedly shows some of the scene as some it unfolded in Greenville.


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