Attorney General William Barr released a statement Tuesday explaining that the government cannot impose restrictions on religious gatherings.
AG BILL BARR: “Government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity.” pic.twitter.com/MOJzEVRMqJ
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) April 14, 2020
As cities, counties and states around the country ban churches from gathering, Attorney General Barr and the Justice Department decided to side with a Mississippi church in a lawsuit challenging Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons’ April 7 executive order prohibiting drive-in church services.
Parishioners at Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi were issued $500 tickets by police last week for attending a sermon held in the church parking lot where everyone stayed in their cars and listened to the pastor on the radio.
Speaking about the Mississippi church case, Barr stated, “The City appears to have thereby singled churches out as the only essential service (as designated by the state of Mississippi) that may not operate despite following all CDC and state recommendations regarding social distancing.”
“Government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity,” he continued.
Essentially, if the grocery store can stay open to hundreds or thousands of people, the church can stay open as well.
Read the full Justice Department memo supporting the Temple Baptist Church by clicking the link below:
“The city has the burden to demonstrate that prohibiting the small church here from holding the drive-in services at issue here — services where attendees are required to remain in their cars in the church parking lot at all times with their windows rolled up and spaced consistent with CDC guidelines — is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling interest,” the statement reads.
Continuing, the statement declared, “The United States Department of Justice will continue to ensure that religious freedom remains protected if any state or local government, in their response to COVID-19, singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions.”
Mississippi’s Governor, Tate Reeves, deemed religious gatherings “essential” in his stay-at-home order and specifically exempted them.
Reeves tweeted in support of Barr’s decision on Tuesday, writing, “Thank you to the Trump administration and Attorney General Bill Barr for this strong stand in support of religious liberty. The government cannot shut down churches. Mississippi is not China. This is still America. We will help support this any way we can.”
Thank you to the Trump administration and Attorney General Bill Barr for this strong stand in support of religious liberty. The government cannot shut down churches. Mississippi is not China. This is still America. We will help support this any way we can. https://t.co/a2cc5s3oXe
— Tate Reeves (@tatereeves) April 14, 2020
Meanwhile, a group of pastors in California filed a lawsuit Monday against Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and others for “criminalizing” church attendance with stay-at-home orders.
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