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Temple Baptist Church v. City of Greenville

Description:  The city of Greenville, Mississippi, issued an order that banned drive-in church services until the governor lifts a statewide shelter-in-place order prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s order includes no such ban and identifies churches as an “essential business or operation.”


Wednesday, Apr 22, 2020
GREENVILLE, Miss. – The Greenville City Council has issued a new order that lifts the city’s unconstitutional ban on drive-in church services during the coronavirus crisis in the wake of a lawsuit that Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed on behalf of a local church. The church voluntarily withdrew its request for a temporary restraining order against the city Wednesday in light of the city’s changed position.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the case, Temple Baptist Church v. City of Greenville, agreeing with the church that the ban cannot single out churches while allowing similar types of activities elsewhere, such as drive-in restaurants.

“Public officials are right to care about public health and safety during the coronavirus crisis, but they are wrong when they treat churches more harshly than others in government orders related to it,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “We commend Greenville for dropping its unconstitutional ban, which prohibited drive-in church services but allowed similar types of activities, such as eating at drive-in restaurants. That overreaching ban wasn’t necessary to protect health and safety. It only served to unnecessarily violate Americans’ freedoms protected by the First Amendment.”

ADF attorneys representing Greenville’s Temple Baptist Church filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi to challenge the city’s ban, which Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons originally claimed was consistent with a statewide shelter-in-place order issued by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves. The governor’s order, however, includes no such ban and identifies churches as an “essential business or operation.” Reeves also made public statements saying that drive-in church services were acceptable under his order.

The lawsuit came about after members of Temple Baptist Church drove to the church’s parking lot on a Wednesday night and stayed in their cars, as the church instructed, with their windows rolled up while listening to Pastor Arthur Scott preach a sermon over a low-power FM radio frequency from a microphone inside the empty church building. Despite the fact that no one left their cars, which numbered fewer than 20, eight uniformed police officers arrived at the service and issued tickets of $500 per person for violating the mayor’s ban.

The church has been conducting drive-in church services in an effort to respect social-distancing recommendations from federal, state, and local authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nathan Kellum, one of more than 3,100 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel in the case on behalf of the church.
 

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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Previous News Releases


Legal Documents

Notice of withdrawal of temporary restraining order motion: Temple Baptist Church v. City of Greenville
DOJ statement of interest: Temple Baptist Church v. City of Greenville
Motion for temporary restraining order: Temple Baptist Church v. City of Greenville
Complaint: Temple Baptist Church v. City of Greenville

Related Resources

ABOUT Ryan Tucker

Ryan Tucker serves as senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries with Alliance Defending Freedom. He oversees all litigation efforts to maintain and defend the constitutionally protected freedom of churches, Christian ministries and religious schools to exercise their rights under the First Amendment. Prior to joining ADF, Tucker engaged in private practice for over 16 years with a litigation boutique law firm in San Antonio, Texas, eight of those as a partner. His portfolio included all aspects of civil litigation, both state and federal, with a particular focus on commercial and complex business disputes. Tucker earned his Juris Doctor at Baylor Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Baylor Law Review. He obtained his bachelor of business administration in management at Texas A&M University, where he graduated cum laude. A member of the state bar in Texas and Arizona, Tucker is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court and multiple federal district and appellate courts.