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Mississippi Burning: Church That Challenged COVID Lockdown Set on Fire


First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, Mississippi, after an unknown person(s) set it on fire (Image: Tate Reeves Twitter)

Yesterday, a Mississippi Pentecostal church was burned to the ground after it had been trying to open services amid the state’s coronavirus lockdown. The fire is being investigated by police as a suspected arson attack.

First Pentecostal filed a lawsuit last month against the city over its public health order on in-person worship services, the station reported.

Based on some initial evidence, it’s suspected that the attack may have been carried out by pro-lockdown fanatics, possibly distraught over the congregation’s attempts to legally hold church services.

The arsonists taunted church members after torching the building by spray painting, “Bet you stay home now you hypokrits” in the parking lot adjacent to the church, according to Maj. Kelly McMillen of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department.

Last month, the First Pentecostal Church filed a lawsuit against the city of Holly Springs, arguing that the municipality’s “stay-at-home order” had violated First Amendment rights of the church and its members’, including the right to free speech and assembly, and the practice of religion.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves took to social media, saying that he is “heartbroken and furious” by events.

NBC News reports…

“This is not who we are,” the governor said at a daily news conference on the coronavirus epidemic and the state’s response.

“Obviously, we have to ensure that this investigation is done and that it is completed,” Reeves said. “But if this is in fact what it looks like, I want you to know that we’re going to do everything in our power to find whomever burned this church down.”

Stephen Crampton, attorney for the church, told WMC that he has no doubt that the fire was connected to the lawsuit.

“To find that that graffiti is spray painted in there — ‘I bet you stay home now, you hypocrites,’ right — seems very clearly directed at this particular lawsuit and the church’s stand for its own Constitutional rights,” he said.

Church leaders had tried and failed to receive an injunction to the city’s emergency lockdown decrees. New York Times reports:

After growing frustration with the city’s executive orders, the first of which was issued on March 23, the church’s pastor, Jerry Waldrop, confronted city officials at a demonstration at a local Walmart. The church also filed a lawsuit against the city in April.

A lawyer for the church said in the lawsuit that the police had cited Mr. Waldrop on Easter for holding a service in violation of the city’s order, and had later shut down a Bible study.

In a blistering opinion filed last week in response to the lawsuit, Judge Michael P. Mills wrote that he feared that the church was “proceeding in an excessively reckless and cavalier manner and with insufficient respect for the enormity of the health crisis which the Covid-19 pandemic presents.”

The judge declined to block the city’s stay-at-home order, as the church had requested, and noted that the city had, in a subsequent executive order, allowed for drive-in church services.

Challenges by churches and religious groups all over the country have continued to mount, as Americans become impatient with state and local government shutdown orders which have remained in place even through according to the CDC’s own data, COVID-19 infections in the US already peaked in the US back in March.


Fig 18: Percentage of US Hospital Visits of Influenza-like Illness (ILI). Reported by the U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet). Weekly national Summary, 2019-2020 and Selected Previous Seasons. The 3rd peak of the 2019-20 season (03-16..22) reflects hospital utilization by COVID-19 patients, presented by the CDC director Robert R. Redfield at the 04-17 White House coronavirus briefing. (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/weeklyarchives2019-2020/images/ILI15_small.gif, accessed 2020-04-17 04-15 data added. (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/weeklyarchives2019-2020/images/ILI16_small.gif, accessed 04-28). Graph from Knut M. Wittkowski: Two epidemics of COVID-19, 2020-04-28, p. 25.

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