The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest supporting a Mississippi church in its lawsuit against the Greenville city government after congregants were issued $500 dollar tickets for refusing to leave a drive-in worship service.
"[T]he Department filed a Statement of Interest in support of a church in Mississippi that allegedly sought to hold parking lot worship services, in which congregants listened to their pastor preach over their car radios, while sitting in their cars in the church parking lot with their windows rolled up," Attorney General Bill Barr said Tuesday, reports Fox News. "The City of Greenville fined congregants $500 per person for attending these parking lot services – while permitting citizens to attend nearby drive-in restaurants, even with their windows open."
In its lawsuit, the church is claiming discrimination because the restrictions apply to churches but, as Barr said, not to restaurants in the town.
"The City appears to have thereby singled churches out as the only essential service (as designated by the state of Mississippi) that may not operate despite following all CDC and state recommendations regarding social distancing,” Barr added.
The statement of interest comes days after DOJ Director of Communications Kerri Kupec said Barr was “monitoring” government regulation of religious services and to “expect action” this week.
"[E]ven 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. “Thus, government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings. Religious institutions must not be singled out for special burdens.”
Attorney General William P. Barr Issues Statement on Religious Practice and Social Distancing; Department of Justice Files Statement of Interest in Mississippi Church Case https://t.co/Xn0PiVx7bD— Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) April 14, 2020