Attorneys says a rare decision by a federal court in a case involving a Mississippi church should benefit other churches that find themselves battling simply for the right to gather.
In a unanimous decision, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has granted an injunction pending appeal to the First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs, Mississippi. The church, which was recently destroyed in an arson fire, had sued the city of Holly Springs for civil rights violations as a result of prejudicial enforcement of COVID-19 "stay at home" orders.
Attorney Steve Crampton of Thomas More Society, the law firm representing the church, calls the emergency injunction "a huge win for religious liberty." Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver, who is representing a Baptist church in a similar case in Kentucky, agrees.
"… It's a major move by the court of appeals," he offers. "To get any injunction pending appeal is a very difficult situation to do. It's very rare."
Staver sees it as not only a great benefit to the church, but also to other churches.
"Unfortunately, it comes a little bit late because of what happened to this church building. It was literally destroyed by this person who firebombed it," the attorney acknowledges. "But on the other hand, this is a long battle, not only for this church, but for other churches. This is a battle worth fighting."
On April 23, First Pentecostal Church sought a temporary restraining order against the city of Holly Springs, saying officers disrupted and shutdown a midweek Bible study, ten days after disrupting the congregation's Easter service.
The city then amended its ban on church gatherings to allow "drive-in" church services, but then only in the parking lot with the congregants' windows rolled almost all the way up.
When the church then sought to meet indoors and the city again refused to allow it, the church moved for a preliminary injunction and a prompt hearing. When the district court issued a ten-page opinion stating that it would not hear the matter immediately, the church appealed to the Fifth Circuit.