You have likely heard about the ongoing fight to keeping our civil liberties in America. During this pandemic, President Trump has humbly kept the control of each state and local municipality in the hands of those most accustomed to its needs. However, a few of those leaders have turned their emergency power into something far more closely resembling that of communist China.
One of the most pressing issues of late has been the habit of some leaders infringing upon our religious freedoms and banning citizens from participating in church services.
Now, obviously attending mass or church as usual simply can’t be done. With the current outbreak, we must be cautious and reticent to keep current social distancing guidelines in place. However, that doesn’t mean the church as a whole has to stop happening.
And so far, our local pastors and reverends have done an excellent job of getting this done. Some have taken to videotaping their sermons and putting them online, while others have hosted drive-in like services where members still travel to church but rather than go inside and stand or sit close to other parishioners, they remain in their vehicles and listen to the sermon and worship music through their radios.
And for those willing to risk it, some pastors have even continued to hold an actual service, albeit actual attendance is limited.
But it seems that for some leaders, even these measures are not enough.
In Kentucky, last week, the governor ordered police officers to record license plate numbers of vehicles in church parking lots, as well as litter the entrances to those lots with nails to deter attendance.
In Mississippi, even drive-in services were stopped in the city of Greenville. Here the mayor, Democrat Erick Simmons, decided that it was unwise and so ordered a ban on all drive-in services within city limits. Cops even showed up at one church before their Easter service was to start to write tickets for those attending and block off the church parking lot.
As the pastor mentioned, you’d have thought he committed murder or something.
However, after getting plenty of national attention, the Department of Justice quickly got involved. Attorney General William Bar then issued a statement of interest, in which he sided with the church.
He wrote, “The City appears to have… singled 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.” Barr went on to explain that the same city still allowed drive-in restaurants to operate “even with their windows open.”
“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, the government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity.”
Mayor Simmons has since then walked back on his banning of drive-in services. However, he did make sure to state that social distancing guidelines must be adhered to. This means, “in the city of Greenville, we will allow drive-in and parking lot services in the city so long as families stay in their cars with windows up.”
In addition, Simmons is also allowing some in-person services, but these are limited to only gatherings of 10 or less, and, once again, social distancing guidelines must be in place.
But apparently, it wasn’t only AG Barr’s statement that got the mayor to reverse his decision. He admitted that it was the Republican Governor Tate Reeves who actually got it through his head. Reeves had wisely contacted local leaders such as Simmons shortly after Barr’s statement was released, letting them know that drive-in services were ok.
Reeves tweeted, “Thank you to the Trump administration and Attorney General Bill Barr for this strong stand in support for religious liberty. The government cannot shut down churches. Mississippi is not China. This is still America. We will help support this any way we can.”
Well put, Governor Reeves. I couldn’t agree more.