Though the Greenville City Council amended its order concerning the ban on drive-in church services, a lawsuit filed in response to fines issued for violation of the order is still lingering.
“We are in the process of working with the city to bring closure to the lawsuit,” said Ryan Tucker, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries.
The lawsuit claims the city violated three parts of the First Amendment, including the right to assemble, the right to free speech and the free exercise of religion as well as the violation of the 14th amendment’s guarantee of procedural due process. Other charges include violations of the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act and violations of Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves’ executive orders 1463 and 1466.
The federal government, through the Department of Justice, issued a statement of interest lending its support to the church members.
In the opening of the council session when the new order was adopted, Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons asked city attorney Andy Alexander if the earlier order was illegal or unconstitutional in nature. He said the order was not illegal.
During discussions, Simmons cited precedent in other situations where local orders preempting certain constitutional rights during emergency situations were upheld.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced the shelter-in-place order for the state on April 2 and Simmons said the City of Greenville received guidelines from the Mississippi State Department of Health on April 3 that states many COVID-19 cases are linked to church gatherings.
On April 7, the City of Greenville issued an executive order that all church buildings were to be closed for in-person and drive-in church services until the State of Mississippi’s Shelter-in-Place Executive Order No. 1466 is lifted by Reeves.
The shelter-in-place order ended April 27 and a safer-at-home order is now in place until May 11..
On April 8, members of Temple Baptist Church held a drive-in service in the church parking lot, which resulted in several members receiving $500 tickets.
Tucker did file a motion to remove a temporary restraining order, but the restraining order had never been acted on by the court.
In the lawsuit, the church asked the court to:
* Enter a judgment declaring that the City’s church-closure order violates the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise, Free Speech, Right to Assemble, and Due Process Clauses;
* Enter a judgment declaring that the City’s church-closure order violates the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act;
* Enter a judgment declaring the City’s church-closure order null and void because it is preempted by the Governor’s Executive Orders 1463 and 1466.
* Award Plaintiffs’ damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees; and
* Award such other and further relief as to which Plaintiffs may be entitled.