Members of a Greenville, Mississippi, church gathered in a parking lot listening to their pastor’s sermon broadcast in their cars were issued citations on Wednesday night.
Temple Baptist Church member Lee Gordon told the Delta Democrat-Times that church members had been listening to the Rev. Arthur Scott’s sermon broadcast from their cars for the past three weeks to comply with social-distancing recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic.
“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 technology needed to stream the service].”
Although cars filled the church parking lot, Gordon said people remained inside their cars with the windows rolled up.
He said both he and his wife were issued $500 tickets for gathering Wednesday night.
“I think somebody called the police,” Gordon said.
“The police were respectful and just doing their job. They asked us to leave first and those who stayed got a ticket.”
One person filmed his encounter with a police officer and posted it on Facebook.
“Just handed a ticket by a man with no gloves. He gave me an ink pen to sign it,” the man in the video said. “Your city dollars at work for you.”
The Rev. Arthur Scott told the Todd Starnes Radio Show that a police officer said that “the mayor wanted to make an example of our church.”
“I told them to get some more tickets ready because we will be preaching Sunday morning and Sunday night.”
Following Republican Gov. Tate Reeves’ shelter-in-place order for Mississippi, the Democratic Mayor of Greenville, Errick Simmons, issued an executive order closing all church buildings for in-person and drive-in services.
“People have been calling the office all week telling us there are churches still meeting,” Simmons told the Delta Democrat-Times.
“These are people from out of town who are concerned their older parents are still going to these meeting places.”
He added that the executive order was put in place to try “to save lives.”
“If people continue to gather, it’s going to spread.”
Gordon pointed out that they’re not doing anything differently than people parked in normal parking lots.
“There’s 25 cars 200 yards away all in the same place at the Sonic Drive-In,” Gordon said. “What we’re doing endangers nobody.”
Other Greenville churches have experienced similar situations and are asking the mayor to withdraw the order.
First Liberty Institute, representing the Rev. Charleston Hamilton and King James Bible Baptist Church, sent a letter to Mayor Simmons on Thursday that read said his order banning drive-in services “is forbidden under both federal and Mississippi state law.”
“Stated another way, your directive prohibits the gathering of believers that is central to the Easter celebration, effectively limiting religious services by houses of worship to video or teleconferencing only, but does not force the same restriction on other entities or activities,” Jeremy Dys, First Liberty Institute special counsel, wrote.
“As a result, it uniquely handicaps churches from implementing the social distancing guidelines provided by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].”
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