A Mississippi church that is suing to stay open during the coronavirus shutdowns was destroyed by arson Wednesday, according to local officials.
Fox News reports someone also spray-painted graffiti on the First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs, including a message that read, “I Bet you stay home now you hypokrits [sic].”
Local authorities said there was an explosion in the front of the church, and the building caught fire sometime between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Wednesday.
Marshall County Sheriff’s Department Major Kelly McMillian told the local news that the fire is being investigated as a criminal act of arson.
It appears the church was targeted because it continued to hold services during the coronavirus shutdowns. Lawyers with the pro-life Thomas More Society are representing the church in court after Pastor Jerry Waldrop was cited by local authorities for holding services on Easter.
“We’re in a time where I don’t think it’s any secret that there’s a growing hostility toward churches, across the board,” lawyer Stephen Crampton said. “And now, here are churches like First Pentecostal that are sort of stirring up the waters by being outspoken and somewhat firm about seeking to protect their Constitutional rights.”
The Blaze reports the building is a total loss, but the church plans to rebuild.
“We are going to keep the faith, and we’re going to keep doing what we have always done, and maybe not on this location,” the pastor said. “I’ll get with our faithful people, and maybe we’ll rent a building or whatever we need to do for the time being.”
Waldrop said he is struggling with the idea that anyone would set fire to a church.
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In April, the church won a victory in federal court when a judge allowed it to stay open for drive-thru services, according to the report.
Churches across the country have been fighting to stay open amid the shutdowns, pointing to how abortion facilities are allowed to keep killing unborn babies in elective abortions but pastors cannot hold services – supposedly because it could jeopardize people’s lives.
Some states, including Mississippi, did include elective abortions in their shutdown orders, but pro-abortion groups sued and successfully blocked many of the orders.