Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves told the “Todd Starnes Radio Show” on Friday that he was “disturbed” about the recent crackdown on drive-in church services in Greenville and believes that the city’s mayor could be using the enforcement as a “stunt to get national press.”
Two churches in the city had their services interrupted by police this week for allegedly breaking the city’s ban on social distancing.
Erick Simmons, the city’s mayor and Joe Biden supporter, has been criticized for breaking up these gatherings. Religious leaders say these churchgoers are practicing social distancing and actually staying inside cars with their windows rolled up.
There appears to be a power struggle occurring between the state and the city. Reeves pointed out that in his executive order “made very clear” that churches are essential. He said his office does not have the authority to close churches down because they are protected under the Constitution.
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He said he has tried to mitigate the shelter-in-place order by discussing reasonable steps churches can take with their pastors. Reeves said protecting the people of his state is his top priority. The state has seen 2,469 official cases of the virus and 82 deaths. He said the African-American residents of his state appear to be most vulnerable.
Reeves said he watched the video of as many as 20 police officers at the King James Bible Baptist Church on Thursday and called the scene “outrageous.”
“If you are driving to a parking lot and the people that you live with are the only people in your car and your windows are up and you’re simply turning to a particular radio station that the pastor has been successful at securing so that he can preach, you are not a danger to yourself or to anyone else,” Reeves said.
The incident at King James Bible Baptist Church followed an earlier one at Temple Baptist Church.
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City police interrupted the drive-in service there for those in attendance allegedly breaking the city’s ban on social distancing.
Disturbing video emerged online that claimed to show city police officers approach attendees at the Temple Baptist Church. One driver recorded the interactions and narrated the video: “Somewhere, right now, in the city of Greenville, there is some real crime going on and they have half of the police squad in Temple Baptist Church.
Arthur Scott, the church’s pastor, said what is most confusing about all of this, is that he did everything in his power to abide by state and city guidelines. He said he does not allow more than 10 people inside his church at a time, turned to Facebook to stream sermons and even used a low-frequency radio station for elderly parishioners unable to navigate social media.
About 25 churchgoers were given a $500 fine and a court date.
Todd Starnes, the host of the radio show, took personal offense to the treatment of these congregants and said he would pay the $500 fine if it is held up in court.
Reeves said that he hopes to be in touch with the city’s mayor to discuss the issue. He said these kinds of disagreements are best discussed man to man.
He also said that he would do everything in his power to make sure that those fines are “not enforceable.”
“If it requires a pardon, I will act,” he said.