Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issued a warning to local elected leaders who are cracking down on religious liberty.
“If you send police after worshippers trying to social distance, you are going to have Mississippians revolt,” the governor wrote on Twitter.
He shared a story I had written about the mayor of Greenville, Mississippi sending police to shut down and fine worshippers at two Baptist churches.
Temple Baptist Church and King James Bible Baptist Church held “drive-in” services that appeared to be in line with state-mandated social distancing guidelines.
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But Mayor Errick Simmons, a Democrat who endorsed Joe Biden, issued a decree that banned churches from hosting drive-in services.
“The City of Greenville put in place an Executive Order that orders all church buildings closed for in person and drive in church services, until the State of Mississippi’s Shelter In Place Executive Order No. 1466 is lifted by Governor Tate Reeves. Churches are strongly encouraged to hold services via Facebook Live, Zoom, Free Conference Call, and any and all other social media, streaming, and telephonic platforms,” the order read.
On Wednesday, police raided the parking lot of Temple Baptist Church and issued $500 tickets to the mostly elderly congregation — all of whom were sitting in their cars listening to the pastor’s sermon on the radio.
“The police officer said I might go to jail,” Pastor Arthur Scott said on The Todd Starnes Radio Show. “If it means going to jail and if it takes that for me to keep preaching, I’ll be glad to go to jail.”
And on Thursday, some 20 police officers were summoned to the King James Bible Baptist Church.
Charles Hamilton, the pastor of the church broadcast live on Facebook as the officers swarmed the church parking lot. There appeared to be more cops than worshippers.
“Police officers messing with the church,” the pastor said in a Facebook Live video. “What has happened to America?”
First Liberty Institute, one of the nation’s top religious liberty law firms, called for the city of Greenville to immediately rescind the order.
“Protecting religious liberty is essential, even during a pandemic,” said Jeremy Dys, Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications at First Liberty. “Americans can tolerate a lot, if it means demonstrating love for their fellow man, but they will not—nor should not—tolerate churchgoers being ticketed by the police for following CDC guidelines at church. This has to stop now.”
Gov. Tate told local leaders to be very careful about violating anyone’s religious liberty.
“Don’t trample the Constitution,” he said.
But the governor also had some advice for congregations across the Magnolia State — be prudent.
“I’ve asked all pastors not to hold these services, but we ordered churches safe from these outrageous actions,” he said. “Please use sense, everybody.”
Well said, governor.
If you send police after worshippers trying to social distance, you are going to have Mississippians revolt. I’ve asked all pastors not to hold these services—but we ordered churches safe from these outrageous actions. Don’t trample the constitution.
Please use sense, everybody. https://t.co/CtNtAUdNjr
— Tate Reeves (@tatereeves) April 10, 2020