The DOJ is siding with a Mississippi church in its lawsuit against local police after police issued drive-in church goers $500 fines.
Yahoo reports the Justice Department is siding with a Mississippi church in its lawsuit against local police, claiming that authorities targeted worshipers in an uneven enforcement of coronavirus-related restrictions prohibiting public gatherings.
Casting the federal intervention as an attempt to balance religious freedom with public health in the midst of a pandemic, Justice officials said the action was “neither neutral or or generally applicable.”
Temple Baptist Church officials claimed that Greenville, Mississippi, police were dispatched to a April 8 drive-in service where members of the congregation had gathered “peacefully inside their cars listening to Pastor (Arthur) Scott’s sermon with their windows rolled up.”
Police, according to court documents, responded by “knocking on car windows, demanding drivers’ licenses and writing citations with $500 fines.”
The service took place a day after the city issued a prohibition against drive-in services, an order that appeared to conflict with a state action designating churches and religious activities as essential operations as long as they complied with guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mississippi Department of Health.
“The church broadcasts its service over a low-power FM station for its parishioners who gather in their cars in the church’s parking lot,” federal authorities stated. “Attendees are required to remain in their cars at all times with their windows rolled up. The church does not have a website or the ability to stream services online, and many church members do not have social media accounts, the ability to participate in a (group) call, or watch services online.”
Attorney General William Barr, who signaled last week that he was closely tracking virus-related enforcement actions that may impinge on religious freedom, said the the city’s action “appears to have…singled churches out as the only essential service that may not operate despite following all CDC and state recommendations regarding social distancing.”
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