Last Thursday, members of the King James Bible Baptist Church in Greenville were greeted by virtually every member of the Greenville police department and threatened with fines as they arrived for drive-in church services that evening, even though they followed CDC guidelines by remaining in their vehicles, parking six feet apart, and keeping their windows rolled up while listening to their pastor preach from the parking lot.
The Mississippi Justice Institute (“MJI”), a non-profit constitutional litigation center and the legal arm of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, and First Liberty Institute, the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious liberty for all Americans, have teamed up to represent the church.
Today, attorneys with the Mississippi Justice Institute and First Liberty Institute filed a federal lawsuit challenging Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons’s unconstitutional executive order, which categorically bans all drive-in church services.
“We understand that many safety precautions are necessary during this unprecedented time,” said MJI Director Aaron Rice. “But absurd government orders that single out churches for punishment while doing nothing to protect the public health are simply unconstitutional. Mississippians cannot and will not stand for these kinds of outrageous violations of our religious liberties by our government officials.”
As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the country, the church began hosting “drive-in” services in a manner consistent with Center for Disease Control and Mississippi Department of Health guidance. Members would stay in their cars with their windows closed. Traditional shouts of “Amen” or “Hallelujah” turned into flashing lights or honking horns.
While many churches have opted for live-stream services, this was the best option for many at the church, as several do not have social media accounts or the ability to connect online.
“The Mississippi Justice Institute is proud to stand with King James Bible Baptist Church, and we look forward to vindicating the right of all Mississippians to worship in a way that is safe and consistent with their religious beliefs or practical needs,” said Rice.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi.
Video from Pastor Charles Hamilton
A copy of the complaint can be found here.