Last Updated on April 10, 2020
A state representative from Mississippi is warning that local government responses to “stay-at-home” executive orders mandated by Gov. Tate Reeves might hinder the religious liberty of the citizens of the state.
In a press release, Republican Rep. Dana Criswell noted that while Reeves’ executive order considers religious worship to be “essential,” thus allowing churches to remain open during the COVID-19 outbreak as long as they follow CDC and Mississippi Department of Health guidelines, that some locales have pushed to close churches completely.
“In response to the governor’s orders several local governments have issued orders that place additional restrictions on modes of worship that are in clear violation of our state constitution,” the press release said. “These orders attempt to outline the method or mode of worship a religious body may use to worship. Church-goers and pastors have been threatened with fines and arrest if they refuse to comply with these unconstitutional orders.”
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“The people of Mississippi have willingly complied with ‘stay-at-home’ orders, businesses have closed their doors even though it means many will fail and small business owners are in danger of losing their entire livelihood and investment,” Criswell said. “But, to further ask the people of this great state to give up their right to worship God in the manner they desire is beyond any reasonable or legal expectation.”
Criswell spoke with National File Friday afternoon.
“The freedom of religion is a foundational right of our country, there is nothing more important for our government to protect,” he said. “Any political leader who stands by and watches as these right are undermined is not fit for office.”
But that’s what happened in one Mississippi town earlier this week.
The mayor of Greenville, Mississippi recently banned a church from holding drive-in services, to which the church’s pastor accused the local government of trampling on its right to worship freely.
“Elected officials swear an oath to protect our constitutional rights, I believe the governor and our attorney general has the authority to step in and block these orders they violate our citizens rights,” Criswell told National File.
Criswell also implored Reeves to handle the situation, and said that now that the police have claimed they ticketed churchgoers specifically because of Reeves’ executive order, the governor can and should get involved.
He also said that ticketing churchgoers is a clear Constitutional violation and that Mississippi’s Attorney General Lynn Fitch should intervene on behalf of the state’s residents.
Reeves responded to the situation in Greenville via Facebook, for which Criswell thanked him in his press release.
“If you send police after worshippers trying to social distance, you are going to have Mississippians revolt,” Reeves said on his Facebook page. “I’ve asked all pastors not to hold these services—but we ordered churches safe from these outrageous actions. Don’t trample the constitution. Please use sense, everybody.”
Criswell finished by asking state officials to condemn any law enforcement action taken against worshippers.
“There is no more important task of an elected official than that of protecting citizens right to worship without fear,” he said.