Mississippi church burned down, vandalized after challenging city’s stay-at-home order

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HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss. — Court documents show a Mississippi church that was burned down last week was in the middle of a lawsuit with the city for not stopping services.

State fire marshals covered the parking lot Friday of what used to be First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs. Investigators think arson is the cause.

The words “bet you stay home, hypokrits” were left behind.

“The message is directed towards staying home,” said Stephen Crampton, who is representing First Pentecostal. “The whole lawsuit is challenging a stay home order.”

Legal documents show the church was in the middle of a legal battle with the City of Holly Springs.

The lawsuit states that on two occasions last month, officers shut down church services for violating stay-at-home orders that prohibited church services in the city.

The order stated, “under no circumstances shall nonessential businesses, agencies, or organizations have any gatherings of people in any facility within city limits.” Churches were included in the list at the time.

Crampton said Holly Springs’s stay-at-home order conflicted with Gov. Tate Reeves’s order that listed churches as essential.

“This is a discriminatory law,” Crampton said. “What you’re doing is shutting down the churches, but you’re letting people go into the Walmart in the same way.”

In a response, a judge acknowledged the confusion but said, “Plaintiffs’ briefing on this issue heightens this court’s impression that this entire lawsuit is nothing more than a deeply misguided attempt on their part to gain permission to endanger their own lives and those of their fellow community members.”

Crampton said the church has always taken the necessary steps to practice social distancing.

“No one’s looking to endanger lives here,” Crampton said. “What the church is looking for is the opportunity to enact the God-given and the constitutional-protected right in order to minister to souls.”

Crampton said the church has received an outpouring support from the community and plans to meet for service while social distancing Sunday.

“We will learn, and the court will declare that the Holly Springs order was improper and perhaps unconstitutional all along,” Crampton said.

In an email sent Friday evening, Crampton said the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted the church’s injunction appeal.

The court release a statement on the decision, saying, “We are grateful for the Court’s prompt action on this matter, and are hopeful that the church can get back to doing the Lord’s work and not worrying about police officers interfering with their worship services.”

The City of Holly Springs updated its ordinance, stating from now until June 3, churches are allowed to conduct services, but it must either be online or a drive-in service where the car windows are closed or slightly cracked.

There are still no arrests in connection with the arson.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves weighed in on the situation on Twitter, saying he was “heartbroken and furious.”

“What is this pandemic doing to us? We need prayer for this country,” he wrote.

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