As the world deals with this pandemic, churches are discovering innovative solutions to minister to people in crisis.Take Greenville, Mississippi, for example. Throughout Holy Week, Temple Baptist Church discovered itself in the nationwide spotlight after it welcomed congregants to securely gather and hope together, drive-in style, with congregants staying inside their cars.
That’s why my colleagues and I at Alliance Protecting Freedom submitted a lawsuit in federal court on Good Friday on behalf of Temple Baptist. Eight uniformed Greenville law enforcement officer went to a Wednesday night church service and ticketed church members $500 each for attending a drive-in service that complied with state safety and Centers for Illness Control and Prevention guidelines.
In action to the suit, the city avoided ticketing congregants on Easter Sunday. Then on Monday, the mayor held a press conference and stated that while the citations released to Temple Baptist congregants would be dropped, Greenville’s unconstitutional ban on drive-in church services would remain in full force against future services.
But the First Amendment is not so quickly overlooked.
Churches play an essential function in offering both spiritual and physical support during tough times, such as this pandemic. The entire point of carrying out a drive-in church service is to provide this assistance while protecting people’ health and wellness. That is why Temple Baptist instructed congregants not to leave their vehicles or gain access to the church building for any factor.
Yet in Greenville, you can park at a drive-in restaurant with your windows broad open, however you can’t park in a church car park with your windows near attend a church service. That’s ridiculous and unconstitutional.
Government constraints on First Amendment liberties should serve both a compelling federal government interest and do so in the least limiting means possible. As the U.S. Department of Justice notes in its statement of interest, “it is uncertain why forbiding these services is the least restrictive means of safeguarding public health, particularly if, as alleged in the problem, the city permits other conduct that would appear to posture equal– if not higher– risks.”
Such constraints must likewise be neutral towards religious beliefs and apply equally to everyone. Once again, the DOJ said: “In addition to appearing non-neutral, the church’s allegations likewise tend to reveal that the city’s emergency actions are not used in a normally suitable way. The church declares truths tending to reveal that conduct is being permitted for different nonreligious reasons when equivalent conduct is being prohibited to churches holding drive-in services.”
Sadly, these circumstances, as surprising as they are, are not separated. Throughout this time, we need spirits of cooperation, not department and political posturing.
Sadly, in North Carolina, federal government authorities in both Charlotte and Greensboro utilized COVID-19- associated orders as an excuse to unconstitutionally silence disfavored spiritual and political speech. Representatives of Love Life and Cities4Life, the organization led by David Benham, were jailed for hoping outside open abortion clinics, despite the fact that both nonprofit groups are considered exempt service companies under appropriate Wuhan virus-related orders– orders the groups observed, consisting of remaining at least six feet apart at all times.
We can prioritize the health and security of ourselves and our next-door neighbors without damaging churches and individuals of faith. Banning church services and arresting pro-life people isn’t about public health and safety, it’s about some federal government officials silencing speakers they do not like.
In this time of unpredictability, churches and people of faith ought to continue to look for imaginative methods to worship, as well as to like and serve their communities.
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