In response to the COVID-19 emergency Gov. Reeves issued Executive Order Number 1463 on March 24, 2020. In this order Governor Reeves lays out the state’s response to prevent the spread of the virus to include closing non-essential businesses and asking citizens to limit their activities. This order also more clearly defined essential businesses to help citizens and local governments gage their response.
In the order’s description of “Essential Businesses or Operations” it reads, “ Religious entities including religious and faith-based facilities, entities and groups, religious gathering provided that they adhere to the CDC and the Mississippi Department of Health recommendations and guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Further, the First Amendment of the US Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”
Also, the Mississippi State Constitution states in Article 3, Section 11, “The right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government on any subject shall never be impaired.” and in Article 3, Section 18, “No religious test as a qualification for office shall be required; and no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect or mode of worship; but the free enjoyment of all religious sentiments and the different modes of worship shall be held sacred. The rights hereby secured shall not be construed to justify acts of licentiousness injurious to morals or dangerous to the peace and safety of the state, or to exclude the Holy Bible from use in any public school of this state. “
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. 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.
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. 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.
There are many Mississippians across our state who have limited or no access to the internet or simply choose to worship in a manner other than online. These citizens are following CDC guidelines by remaining in their personal vehicle and practicing safe distancing and should not be subjected to coercion and intimidation by local politicians and police. There is no more important task of an elected official than that of protecting citizens right to worship without fear.
I applaud Governor Reeves for addressing this today on his Facebook page and ask him to monitor the situation in Greenville and across the state.
I also ask all state officials to publicly condemn these local orders that prohibit the free exercise of religion and request every elected official demand the citizens of Mississippi be free to worship without threat or fear of arrest.
Rep. Dana Criswell
Mississippi House of Representatives
District 6 – Olive Branch