On Wednesday night, the Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi had a full parking lot as they held a radio church service for their members. All was going well during the service, until things sadly took a turn for the worst when police got involved.
Members of the church reportedly sat in their cars with their windows rolled up as they listened to Pastor Arthur Scott give his sermon on the radio. Lee Gordon, who has been a member of the church for 23 years, told the Delta Democrat-Times that the church has been broadcasting services for the past three weeks using a low-power FM frequency to broadcast the sermon.
“The preacher is in the church at the pulpit, and we are streaming the service live as well,” Gordon explained. “But a lot of our membership is elderly and [lacks access to streaming technology].” Gordon added that as he sat in the parking lot listening to the service with his wife, he thought he was adhering to social distancing guidelines that have been put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, he turned out to be wrong, as he said he and his wife were each issued $500 tickets for what they were doing.
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“I think somebody called the police,” he said. “And we were just doing the same thing we’ve been doing the last three weeks.” Gordon went on to say that police “were respectful and just doing their job. They asked us to leave first, and those who stayed got a ticket.”
Video recorded by another Temple Baptist church member shows police issuing tickets in the parking lot of the church. “Somewhere right now in the city of Greenville, real crime is going on,” the man recording the city can be heard saying from his parked car. “They got half of the police squad at Temple Baptist Church. Seventy- and 80-year-old people…most of them never even had a speeding ticket. But this is a better use of Greenville’s resources.”
The man then points his camera at a red car that had an officer standing by it and says, “A retired nurse, never bothered nobody, being threatened to go to jail for going to church.”
Eventually, the man recording the video was given a ticket as well. “Just handed a ticket by a man with no gloves. He gave me an ink pen to sign it…” he said, going on to say that he and other church members were “complying 100% with the governor’s ordinance on COVID-19. And they come and force us not to comply. They force us to make human contact. Your city dollars at work for you.” Check out the video for yourself:
Mississippi is currently under a shelter-in-place order that was issued by Republican Governor Tate Reeves, and on top of that, Democrat Mayor of Greenville Errick Simmons issued an executive order last Tuesday that all church buildings are to be closed for both in-person and drive-in services. Sadly, the Temple Baptist parking lot service was in direct defiance of this order. “People have been calling the office all week telling us there are churches still meeting,” Simmons said. “These are people from out of town who are concerned their older parents are still going to these meeting places.”
“It’s all about trying to save lives,” he added. “If people continue to gather, it’s going to spread.” Simmons claimed that he received a call this week from someone claiming to be the pastor of Temple Baptist who said, “We’re having church on Wednesday, no matter what.”
Despite the tickets, Gordon said that the church still plans to hold Easter morning services in the parking lot. “There’s 25 cars 200 yards away all in the same place at the Sonic Drive-In. What we’re doing endangers nobody,” he said. The First Liberty Institute, which is representing this church, has sent a letter to Simmons urging him to withdraw his executive order, according to WJTV-TV.
“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.”