The panic created by the virus led state and local leaders to overstep their authority. Mandatory shutdowns went too far in some places, with police harassing people who dared to leave their houses. In one Mississippi town, police ticketed church-goers on Easter for meeting in their cars. Now, the DOJ is getting involved, by backing the church.
As states discuss reopening their economies, we can’t forget how many used the crisis to trample over our rights. Fearful, incompetent mayors and governors went out of their way to punish free citizens. Some states shut down gun stores. Others fined people for leaving their houses or not wearing face masks. The violations of our civil rights during this crisis were totally unacceptable. But it got worse.
Many states went after churches over “social distancing” rules. To their credit, Christians worked diligently to meet the strict demands of their local communities. Many held services online, so congregants could still hear the Good Word. Others got creative, holding “drive-in” services. Participants would stay in their cars, adhering to the six-foot distancing rules, but could still worship together.
That worked in many places, except Greenville, Mississippi. One church held this kind of service, only to be attacked by the police. Officers actually ticketed Christians $500 for gathering in their cars, in one of the worst attacks on the First Amendment we’ve seen in years. The church is fighting back with a lawsuit.
And the Justice Department is taking sides.
The Justice Department intervened in a Mississippi church’s lawsuit by saying in a court filing that it “strongly suggests that the city’s actions target religious conduct” after the church sued police for ticketing congregants during a drive-in service amid coronavirus…
The Justice Department is siding with Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Miss., after Greenville police officers began issuing $500 tickets to congregants who refused to leave a parking lot where the church was holding a drive-in service…
“Today, the Department filed a Statement of Interest in support of a church in Mississippi that allegedly sought to hold parking lot worship services, in which congregants listened to their pastor preach over their car radios, while sitting in their cars in the church parking lot with their windows rolled up,” Attorney General Bill Barr said Tuesday. “The City of Greenville fined congregants $500 per person for attending these parking lot services – while permitting citizens to attend nearby drive-in restaurants, even with their windows open.”
He added: “The City appears to have thereby singled churches out as the only essential service (as designated by the state of Mississippi) that may not operate despite following all CDC and state recommendations regarding social distancing.” [Source: Fox News]
Think about that. This city allowed citizens to attend drive-in restaurants with their windows open, but not a church service—with the windows closed. That suggests a deliberate attempt to persecute religious gatherings, singling them out over other types of services.
These Christians were actually safer than people going to a drive-in restaurant. They stayed in their cars and did not interact directly with others. The same can’t be said of someone attending a drive-in restaurant, who comes in contact with servers.
Why would this city do this? It’s yet another example of an overreaching government that has little regard for the religious rights of Americans. You thought our freedoms would be safe in Mississippi? Apparently not.
Bill Barr’s “statement of interest” throws considerable weight in favor of the church. The attorney general issued guidance for the DOJ to interpret religious liberty under the Constitution. That means Trump’s DOJ is taking special interest in protecting our First Amendment rights.
Because of that, this church will most-likely win this case against the town. And it will set a precedent for any state or local government that thinks a virus is enough reason to rob us of our religious freedom.
Democrat mayors better take notice.