GREENVILLE, Miss. — After drawing national attention, including lawsuits brought by two local churches, the mayor of Greenville, Mississippi has reversed his decision to ban drive-in church services.
After receiving “clarification” from Gov. Tate Reeves, Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons says he’s reversing an April 7 order saying all churches would be closed, including drive-in services, as part of Mississippi’s shelter in place mandate.
The city of Greenville will allow drive-in and parking lot services in the city, so long as families stay in their cars with windows up.
Simmons’ action comes after two Greenville churches filed lawsuits when police showed up at their parking lot services just days before Easter.
At Temple Baptist, they handed out $500 citations while parishioners listened to the church’s pastor preach on a local radio station.
“People had started rolling their windows down and they told us, you know, to either leave or either get a ticket,” said church member Lee Gordon.
After U.S. Attorney General William Barr publicly criticized the police action, Mayor Simmons announced church members would not be required to pay the fines.
A day later at King James Bible Baptist Church, Pastor Charles Hamilton called out police officers who surrounded the parking lot during a drive-in service.
“The purpose of y’all’s job is not to stop people from doing good. The purpose of y’all’s job is to stop people from doing evil,” Hamilton told police in a video.
The attorney for First Liberty Institute, the organization representing Hamilton’s church, says Simmons’ decision will hopefully send a strong message.
“There’s no pandemic exception to the First Amendment and so thankfully, today worshipers in Greenville are experiencing a greater degree of freedom than they did yesterday,” attorney Jermy Dys said.
Simmons says pastors, musicians and media production teams will be allowed inside churches as long as there are no more than 10 people.
He stressed that churches must follow social distancing policies established by the CDC.