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First Liberty Institute Demands Mississippi Mayor to Stop Targeting CDC “Drive-In” Churchgoers

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April 9, 2020

News Release
For Immediate Release: 4.9.20
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

First Liberty Institute Demands Mississippi Mayor to Stop Targeting CDC “Drive-In” Churchgoers
Mayor’s policy singles out religious gathering in a manner inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution, state and federal law

Greenville, MS—First Liberty Institute today sent a letter to Greenville, Mississippi Mayor Errick Simmons urging him to withdraw an order that targets churches holding CDC compliant drive-in services during the COVID-19 pandemic.  First Liberty represents Pastor Charleston Hamilton and King James Bible Baptist Church (“KJBBC”) in Greenville.

You can read First Liberty’s letter here.

“Protecting religious liberty is essential, even during a pandemic,” said Jeremy Dys, Special Counsel for Litigation and Communications at First Liberty.  “Americans can tolerate a lot, if it means demonstrating love for their fellow man, but they will not—nor should not—tolerate churchgoers being ticketed by the police for following CDC guidelines at church. This has to stop now.”

Pastor Hamilton and KJBBC have rigorously followed the CDC guidelines for the COVID-19 crisis since it came to Mississippi.  Unable to meet in-person, KJBBC creatively chose to utilize a “drive-in” method of holding church services while still strictly adhering to the guidelines.  Members of KJBBC drive in their cars and park in their parking lot—in maybe 7 or 8 cars total.   Pastor Hamilton stands at a distance greater than 6 feet from his parishioners as they remain their cars with the windows up.  No one leaves their cars at any time during the service.  Rather, they listen to Pastor Hamilton as he, utilizing a bullhorn, preaches to them in the open air.

However, Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons recently issued an order prohibiting drive-in services.  The order leaves Pastor Hamilton and other church leaders in fear that their church members will be fined and criminally prosecuted for merely engaging in drive-in church services that fall well within the CDC guidelines.

In its letter, First Liberty explains that, “Your prohibition of religious gatherings of this type and the ticketing of participants, regardless of the precautions taken, is forbidden under both federal and Mississippi state law.  Mississippi’s Religious Freedom Act (“MRFA”) prohibits government officials from substantially burdening religious exercise without demonstrating that the restriction imposed advances a compelling interest by the least restrictive means.   The First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause imposes a similar standard when government action targets religious exercise.  We require Greenville, Mississippi to withdraw the unconstitutional order that, disturbingly, targets religious exercise.”

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

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