Trump Admin Defends Christians Fined $500 Each for Attending “Drive-In” Church Service

National   Steven Ertelt   Apr 14, 2020   |   4:25PM    Washington, DC

President Donald Trump’s administration is coming to the defense of Christians in Mississippi who were fined $500 each for attending a drive-in church service that followed the rules and recommendations health officials issued for social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

As LifeNews.com reported, police fined members of a Mississippi church $500 each for attending a “drive-in” church service and supposedly violating social distancing orders. Meanwhile, the sole abortion clinic in the state continues to kill babies in abortion despite an order from the governor to stop all non-essential medical procedures. The church service required churchgoers stay inside their cars with their windows rolled up while listening to an FM radio station broadcast a sermon and music.

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

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 drive-thru 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.”

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And the Trump administration today announced it supports the church’s lawsuit and filed legal papers defending its religious freedom.

Attorney General William P. Barr issued the following statement:

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the President has issued guidelines calling on all Americans to do their part to slow the spread of a dangerous and highly contagious virus.  Those measures are important because the virus is transmitted so easily from person to person, and because it all too often has life-threatening consequences for its victims, it has the potential to overwhelm health care systems when it surges.

To contain the virus and protect the most vulnerable among us, Americans have been asked, for a limited period of time, to practice rigorous social distancing.  The President has also asked Americans to listen to and follow directions issued by state and local authorities regarding social distancing.  Social distancing, while difficult and unfamiliar for a nation that has long prided itself on the strength of its voluntary associations, has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of American lives from an imminent threat.  Scrupulously observing these guidelines is the best path to swiftly ending COVID-19’s profound disruptions to our national life and resuming the normal economic life of our country.  Citizens who seek to do otherwise are not merely assuming risk with respect to themselves, but are exposing others to danger.  In exigent circumstances, when the community as a whole faces an impending harm of this magnitude, and where the measures are tailored to meeting the imminent danger, the constitution does allow some temporary restriction on our liberties that would not be tolerated in normal circumstances.

But even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.  Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings.  Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.  

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.  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.[1]  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.

As we explain in the Statement of Interest, where a state has not acted evenhandedly, it must have a compelling reason to impose restrictions on places of worship and must ensure that those restrictions are narrowly tailored to advance its compelling interest.  While we believe that during this period there is a sufficient basis for the social distancing rules that have been put in place, the scope and justification of restrictions beyond that will have to be assessed based on the circumstances as they evolve.

Religion and religious worship continue to be central to the lives of millions of Americans.  This is true more so than ever during this difficult time.  The pandemic has changed the ways Americans live their lives.  Religious communities have rallied to the critical need to protect the community from the spread of this disease by making services available online and in ways that otherwise comply with social distancing guidelines.

The United States Department of Justice will continue to ensure that religious freedom remains protected if any state or local government, in their response to COVID-19, singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions.”

The City has since stated it will drop the fines, but will continue to enforce the order but the church is not the only one facing persecution.

Kentucky Christians who attended drive-in services on Easter were met by police presence and nails dumped in the road, the pastor of a Kentucky church said.

Police served a summons to the pastor of Lighthouse Fellowship in Chincoteague Island, Virginia for holding a church service for 16 people spaced far apart in a sanctuary that seats 293.

The charge is violating Virginia Governor Northam’s COVID Order 55 with a penalty up to a year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine. Liberty Counsel is representing Pastor Kevin Wilson and Lighthouse Fellowship Church.

Last Sunday before the service, a local police officer entered the church. He gave no introduction and did not ask for the pastor. He abruptly said they could not have more than 10 people spaced six feet apart. Then after the service, two police officers entered the church in full mask and gloves and asked to speak with the pastor.

They issued Pastor Wilson a summons and informed him that if he had service on Easter, and if more than ten people attended, everyone would receive the same summons.

David Benham and the eight Christians who were arrested for praying outside a local abortion clinic and helping mothers in need are not taking the abrogation of their Constitutional rights lying down. Their attorneys drafted a letter to the city of Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday telling the city to stand down and let them pray and counsel outside the abortion center or face a potential lawsuit.

And Kansas lawmakers took action Wednesday to stop Gov. Laura Kelly from banning church services on Easter while allowing abortion facilities to continue killing unborn babies in elective abortions.