Miss. pastor files lawsuit against police after congregants were ticketed during drive-in service
The suit comes after officers issued $500 tickets to congregants who refused to leave a parking lot where a drive-in service was being conducted
In his latest article, columnist Chief Joel Shults addresses the issue of police enforcing orders limiting religious gatherings and asks: Can a uniformed officer remain silent and go about a duty that is repugnant to the Constitution? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.
GREENVILLE, Miss. — Pastor Arthur Scott filed a lawsuit against the city of Greenville and the police department after police officers issued tickets to people attending the church’s drive-in service last week.
Police shut down the Temple Baptist Church’s drive-in service in accordance with a city ban on large gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit Friday on behalf of Temple Baptist Church. The filing challenges Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons' April 7 executive order that prohibits drive-in church services until a statewide shelter-in-place order is lifted.
The suit comes after eight uniformed Greenville police officers reportedly issued $500 tickets to congregants who refused to leave a parking lot where a drive-in service was being conducted Wednesday, the ADF said in a statement announcing the legal challenge.
Kristen Waggoner, with the ADF, said during the church’s drive-in service “everyone was in their car and they were listening to an FM transistor radio.”
She said about 20 cars were in the church’s parking lot when eight police officers came and gave the Temple Baptist Church and Pastor Scott $500 tickets for being there.
Waggoner said she filed the lawsuit just before Easter and negotiated a stay through Easter, but the mayor “doubled down again” on Monday morning “saying he would enforce the order against the church.”
“We’re deeply concerned because the First Amendment is not completely suspended even during times of crisis,” Waggoner said.
Scott said the fact that officers issued tickets “really doesn’t make any sense.”
“Just two blocks down the street, the Sonic, they can sit there and talk and eat, but a couple blocks up the other way, they can’t even come with the windows rolled up, with me preaching inside the church,” he added.
During a news conference on Monday morning, Simmons said that members of the Temple Baptist Church will not have to pay the $500 tickets they were issued at the drive-in church service.
Simmons also reportedly said on Monday that the current order limiting gatherings to ten people or less remains in place, adding that he has asked for "definitive guidance" from the governor’s office.
"What we're asking for is definitive guidance regarding drive-in and parking lot services, that's what the issue is," Simmons said, according to the paper.
“Many of these people can’t watch online and the mayor needs to understand he’s not a king,” Waggoner said. “There are limits to government authority.”
“The Constitution must be followed,” she went on to say. “Public safety is important, but the two are not exclusive. We can protect safety and engage in social distancing and still allow people to go to a drive-in service without exposing others to this pandemic.”