Two weeks ago The Daily Citizen covered a COVID-19-related story from Chattanooga, Tennessee, involving a mayor’s order prohibiting church drive-in worship services right before Easter. One of the churches affected, the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church (Metro Tab), had for several weeks prior to Easter adhered to recommendations from state and local authorities to hold online church services. However, since some of its members did not have the capability to participate online, the pastor announced a drive-in service for Easter. Pastor William Steven Ball set up proper social-distancing guidelines for his members who wanted to attend.

Although Tennessee Governor Bill Lee had issued stay-at-home orders covering the entire state, he specifically defined attendance at worship services as an “essential activity” that could go on as long as recommended guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were followed. But Chattanooga’s mayor, Andrew Berke, expanded that order locally on April 9 to prohibit drive-in services within the city. Metro Tab refrained from holding the Easter drive-in service but took issue with the mayor’s action.

With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Metro Tab and Pastor Ball sued the mayor and the city of Chattanooga for violating the church’s religious freedom. Why, the church asked in its suit, did the city prohibit a few cars in a church parking lot but allowed and welcomed bumper to bumper cars in parking lots at grocery and big box stores all over town?

In the face of the church’s lawsuit, and probably impressed by the fact that U.S. Attorney General William Barr and the Department of Justice came to the support of church drive-in services in Mississippi, the mayor changed his mind and announced that drive-in services would be permitted. The church, in turn, voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit.

In an online press release, ADF Senior Ryan Tucker said:

“Singling out churches for special punishment makes no sense and is very clearly unconstitutional. It never made any sense that, in Chattanooga, you could sit in your car at a drive-in restaurant, but you couldn’t sit in your car at a drive-in church service,” Tucker continued. “We commend the city for changing its policies and respecting the constitutionally protected freedoms of area congregations, which can now participate in alternate versions of worship during this pandemic that are specifically designed to comply with all applicable health and safety recommendations.”

Pandemics can create situations where constitutional rights are trampled in the panicked decision-making of any government official. We’re grateful to see this particular case resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.


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