- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2020

Temple Baptist Church is suing Greenville, Mississippi’s city government and mayor for busting up its “drive-in” church service.

Police officers issued $500 fines this week to drive-in churchgoers whose service required churchgoers stay inside their cars with their windows rolled up while listening to an FM radio station broadcast a sermon and music.

The church contends its congregation was following the orders imposed by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons enforcing social-distancing restrictions to fight coronavirus.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit law firm focused on religious and civil liberties, is filing a lawsuit requesting a federal court enact a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against Greenville from enforcing the church-closure order. ADF’s request for an urgent injunction is to allow the churchgoers to worship from their cars on the coming Easter Sunday holiday.

“If [government] allows waiting in the car at Sonic it should permit a drivethru Easter service,” tweeted Kristen Waggoner, ADF senior vice president and counsel for Trinity Baptist Church, about the city’s action. “Safety is critical. So is following the Constitution. First Amendment isn’t completely suspended nor does [government] have unlimited authority to target churches however they please. There are limits.”

Mr. Simmons said on Friday afternoon that he had not yet received the lawsuit, but the intent of the city’s order was to save lives not infringe upon religious liberty.

“[O]f course this is no infringement on the right to religion, the right to worship, although it impacts our traditional way of gathering to worship, it does not prevent us from worshiping,” Mr. Simmons said. “We need our pastors and our worship leaders to be creative during this unprecedented time and a lot of churches are doing that.”

The mayor said he presumed that patrolling police officers spotting parking lots with 30 or 40 cars were violating the governments’ orders. He said he thought this was what happened with Temple Baptist Church, and added that someone also called the city about the gathering at the Temple church.

ADF is counseling other churches and nonprofit groups about its rights amid the coronavirus restrictions imposed by local, state, and federal governments as well. On Thursday, ADF threatened to sue the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, if the government there does not drop criminal charges pending against Christian activists who were arrested while gathered in prayer outside an abortion clinic last weekend.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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