The Justice Department jumped into a federal lawsuit in Mississippi on Tuesday to support parishioners who had been fined $500 for attending a drive-in church service, demonstrating the Trump administration’s willingness to challenge what it sees as onerous local lockdown rules during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Baptist Temple Church in Greenville, Mississippi, had alleged in a complaint last week that local police overstepped their bounds by enforcing a ban on drive-in church services and trying to “bust up” the parking lot congregation. Worshippers were inside vehicles with their windows rolled up while listening to a broadcast of the sermon inside when eight police officers began issuing tickets, including to the pastor.
The Trump administration filed what’s called a statement of interest in the case, showing the government’s views about the general legal principles at play, contending parishioners retain certain constitutional rights to assemble and exercise free speech despite the pandemic.
The administration contends the ban on drive-in church gatherings does not appear to be applied neutrally to secular and religious activities alike, and thus, the filing said, “The facts alleged in the complaint strongly suggest that the city’s actions target religious conduct.”
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