As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend life as we know it, Greenville mayor Errick Simmons is now taking drastic steps to try and reduce the risk of coronavirus in Greenville.
On April 7, he issued an executive order stating churches are no longer allowed to hold in person or drive in services.
This after a statement from the Mississippi State Department of Health saying many cases are linked to these gatherings.
"Friday from the Mississippi Department of Health a guideline that it is vital for Mississippians to not attend in person church services because church gatherings funerals and waitings have been the culprit and the reason for the uptick in the cases,” the mayor said.
Here’s what churches can do under the order:
Hold virtual, zoom, teleconference and other social media virtual services.
They cannot hold in person or drive in services
And the mayor’s office says violators will be prosecuted.
Most local pastors support the mayor’s decision saying it’s to protect lives
This is in no way canceling church, you know over the last month, we've found creative ways to get word out there to get the gospel out there to worship, been reminded that this is a reflection of how the church worshiped in the first century and home church and i think we're finding a lot of pure worship in these days,” said Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Greenville, Matt Alexander.
There has also been plenty of backlash from church goers saying they will gather anyway.
Like at Temple Baptist Church, where worshippers gathered after the executive order was issued and were later ticketed by local police.
And now at the center of this controversy, Temple Baptist Church which has been contacted by a legal firm which specializes in religious rights.
First liberty institute specializes in first amendment issues.
Jeremy dys:”in the parking lot windows up with their doors shut listening to Pastor Hamilton preach that type of religious hostility or hostility toward religion and discrimination against this city is unconscionable. The American people are very tolerant we understand the need to limit our social gatherings right now, but there’s no pandemic exception to the United States constitution,” said Special Counsel for litigation and communications at First Liberty, Jeremy Dys.
Governor Tate Reeves even speaking out about the matter on social media saying in part “if you send police after worshippers trying to social distance, you are going to have Mississippians revolt,”
At a press conference Friday, Reeves spoke further about the issue offering somewhat conflicting opinions
”I don’t think we should have any services, i think the services we should have online, I believe we should worship at home i believe we have a constitutional right to practice our religion I believe it’s exceptionally important,” said Tate Reeves.
Mayor Simmons said local governments are looking for quote “bold, clear direction” during this time.
The mayor’s attorney has been in touch with First Liberty over the ticketing.