Three churches challenge NY county’s ban on drive-in services

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Three churches in upstate New York are challenging a countywide ban on drive-in services put in place hours before Easter Sunday.

Chemung County Executive Christopher Moss announced the ban on Facebook Live, citing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's coronavirus executive order restricting large gatherings and images on social media showing children running close to vehicles.

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“Drive-in services allow us to stay connected to our church family while remaining socially distant during this time," Micheal Spencer, pastor of His Tabernacle Family Church, said in a statement to Fox News. "Unity is especially important to us for the mental and spiritual health of our community.”

His Tabernacle Family Church in upstate New York is asking the county to reverse a ban on drive-in services.

His Tabernacle Family Church in upstate New York is asking the county to reverse a ban on drive-in services. (First Liberty Institute)

First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal nonprofit, sent a letter asking Moss to withdraw the policy on behalf of three local churches that had been holding drive-in services for weeks in compliance with the county: His Tabernacle, Journey Church and Pine Creek Christian Center.

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“The Constitution forbids the government from singling out churches for restrictions that are not imposed on other entities,” Keisha Russell, First Liberty attorney, said. “Churches that creatively and safely serve their communities should be applauded, not targeted.”

After a month of repeated challenges to prohibitions on drive-in worship services, we expect state and local governments to stop targeting churches and protect religious freedom.

— Keisha Russell

First Liberty points out that the state's orders do not address drive-in services and argue Moss' ban is violating the First Amendment.

In a similar case, First Liberty secured a temporary restraining order for On Fire Church in Louisville, Kentucky, after federal Judge Justin Walker said the mayor's ban on drive-in services violated the Free Exercise clause "beyond all question."

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They also had similar cases in Greenville, Mississippi; Frisco, Texas; and McKinney, Texas.

“After a month of repeated challenges to prohibitions on drive-in worship services, we expect state and local governments to stop targeting churches and protect religious freedom,” Russell added.