A TV news channel in Mississippi has found a church pastor who says he plans to hold an in-person Easter Sunday service – in contravention of a mayor’s executive order – because he’s upset that more people will be at home improvement stores tomorrow than would be permitted in his congregation.
“It’s kinda hard for me to understand why I can only have 10 in a worship service when I go to Lowe’s, Home Depot, and there are more than 10,” Jesse Horton Sr, pastor at Jackson’s Emmanuel Baptist missionary church, told WAPT-TV.
“Why is it that everything else can be open?”
Chokwe Antar Lumumba, the mayor of Jackson, has taken a hard line on a coronavirus lockdown, challenging the authority of Tate Reeves, the Mississippi governor, and threatening to cut off electricity to any businesses that defy his instructions.
“If you live in the city of Jackson, you take my executive order,” said Lumumba, who has signed a directive outlawing gatherings of more than 10 people. Conversely, as in many other states, Reeves’ own stay-at-home order appears to exempt religious services at houses of worship.
Horton says he plans to press ahead with his Easter service tomorrow, but promises to shut it down if Jackson cops show up to enforce the order.
“We will likely have more than 10. We will be sitting in space. I’m going to say to the congregation, ‘Let’s be as safe as possible. Let’s not do anything foolish’,” he said.
Horton’s is not the only Mississippi church making waves in the debate over religious freedoms during the pandemic. Greenville’s Temple Baptist Church is suing the city government and mayor for breaking up a drive-in service it recently staged, and issuing $500 fines to attendees, according to the Washington Times.
The church insists it followed state and federal guidelines and that those who attended remained in their vehicles with windows fully closed, turning into the service on their car radios.
“This is government overreach,” Kristen Waggoner, general counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious rights law firm, said in a tweet.
“If [the] government allows waiting in a car at Sonic it should permit a drive-thru Easter service. [The] first amendment is not completely suspended, nor does government have unlimited authority to target churches however they please.”
The Greenville mayor Errick Simmons told the newspaper he hadn’t seen the lawsuit but that the city’s actions were to save lives and not intended to restrict religious freedoms.