Two US cities have lifted bans targeting drive-in church services during the coronavirus pandemic.
Chattanooga in Tennessee and Greenville, Mississippi had banned gatherings of Christians outside churches while remaining in their vehicle, but made no such prohibition against similar situations, such as allowing drive-through restaurants to continue to operate.
Both cities have now reversed their decisions, following legal action by religious liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).
Chattanooga’s measures did not initially prevent drive-in church services, but Mayor Andrew Berke introduced the ban close to Easter, forcing congregations to cancel their services.
ADF Senior Counsel 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. We commend the city for changing its policies and respecting the constitutionally protected freedoms of area congregations”.
In Greenville, Mayor Errick Simmons claimed that a ban on drive-in church services was in line with measures introduced by the state’s governor.
But Governor Tate Reeves publicly stated that drive-in church services were allowed and his order classed churches as an “essential business or operation”.
Following the reversal of both cities’ bans, churches have operated drive-in services unhindered.
Tucker said: “Public officials are right to care about public health and safety during the coronavirus crisis, but they are wrong when they treat churches more harshly than others in government orders related to it”.
Last month, the US Attorney General promised that action will be taken against officials who disproportionately sanction religious organisations during the coronavirus outbreak.
Kerri Kupec from the Office of the Attorney General stated via Twitter that: “While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly not single out religious orgs.”