Justice Department Sides With Churches In First Amendment Lawsuit Against Local Government

Written by Wes Walker on April 15, 2020

You may have heard about the church in Mississippi suing after having tickets handed out to people sitting in their cars during a ‘drive-through’ church service.

The DOJ has weighed in on the issue.

The Justice Department took the rare step on Tuesday of weighing in on the side of a Mississippi Christian church where local officials had tried to stop Holy Week services broadcast to congregants sitting in their cars in the parking lot.

As the coronavirus pandemic spread, leaders at Temple Baptist Church in Greenville began holding drive-in services for their congregation on a short-wave radio frequency from inside an empty church save for the preacher.

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Arthur Scott, the 82-year-old pastor, said Tuesday that it was a good compromise for his group, a “wonderful way to preach the gospel and still it’s like they are there, but you can’t go out and see them, but you know they’re there.” — AP

The mayor said they wouldn’t have to pay the fines, but this issue is a lot bigger than just one city’s spat with church attendees, and Bill Barr has weighed in.

The Justice Department argued in the filing that the city appeared to be targeting religious conduct by singling churches out as the only essential service (as designated by the state of Mississippi) that may not operate despite following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state recommendations regarding social distancing.

“The facts alleged in the complaint strongly suggest that the city’s actions target religious conduct,” the filing says. “If proven, these facts establish a free exercise violation unless the city demonstrates that its actions are neutral and apply generally to nonreligious and religious institutions or satisfies the demanding strict scrutiny standard.”

Barr said that he believes there is a sufficient basis for social distancing rules that have been put in place, but that the restrictions must be applied evenly and not single out religious institutions.

“But even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers,” Barr said in a statement. “Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity.” — AP

You mean, the First Amendment isn’t something that simply disappears when it becomes an inconvenience to the Government’s broader objectives?

Gee, what a novel idea.

We should write that into law or something.

Maybe we could give it a zippy name like ‘the Bill of Rights’.

Could examples like this one that be why citizens don’t trust the government to abide by an honor system? The Second Amendment is there as a failsafe in case the worst parts of human nature find their way into positions of power.

 

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