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A Mississippi Church That Defied Lockdown Restrictions Was Burned To The Ground

A Mississippi Church That Defied Lockdown Restrictions Was Burned To The Ground

The case is being investigated as arson after a spray-painted messaged reading, "Bet you stay home now," was discovered on the scene.

Image Source: Twitter/Tate Reeves

After a church in northern Mississippi was burned to the ground recently, it was deemed arson and an investigation was immediately launched into the suspected deliberate act. Last week, on Wednesday, firefighters arrived on the scene after being alerted about the fire in the First Pentecostal Church. After the flames were contained police discovered a spray-painted message criticizing the church's non-compliance with the coronavirus restrictions. "Bet you stay home now you hypocrites," read the message per Major Kelly McMillen with the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department. It was accompanied by a graffiti of what appears to be an atomic symbol with an “A” in the center which, according to the New York Times, is a logo used by atheists group sometimes. 



 

A can of white spray paint and a flashlight was retrieved by police from the scene of the crime, revealed Major McMillen. Although they are yet to identify any suspects, investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and possibly the F.B.I. would carefully take a look at the scene on Friday, he explained. "We’ll probably be there till dark tomorrow night because we’re going to have to go through each and every piece of it," added McMillen. 



 

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves expressed his disappointment and anger in a Twitter post. In Mississippi, a church was just burned to the ground. They had been trying to open services, he wrote. Revealing his disgust for this act, he continued, What is this pandemic doing to us? We need prayer for this country. According to the news outlet, the city of Holly Springs, Mississippi, was sued by First Pentecostal Church. They argued that the city, which is approximately one hour southeast of Memphis, had violated and interfered with the church's free speech rights and its members’ ability to worship peacefully, respectively. 



 

The executive orders of the city's restrictions were first issued on March 23. As the frustrations surrounding these limitations grew Jerry Waldrop, the pastor of the church, "confronted city officials at a demonstration at a local Walmart," reports New York Times. In April, the church had also filed a lawsuit against the city for disrupting "Plaintiff’s peaceful mid-week Bible Study and shut it down on threat of criminal citations for violation of Holly Springs’ Stay Home Order, despite the fact that Plaintiffs were practicing social distancing and complying with all applicable health requirements."



 

A lawyer representing the church explained in the lawsuit that police had summoned Mr. Waldrop on Easter for holding a service which was in violation of the city’s order, and had later shut down a Bible study. Responding to this lawsuit, Judge Michael P. Mills intensely wrote that he feared 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." He declined to comply with the church's requests and block the city's stay-at-home order, noting that it was allowing drive-in church services in a subsequent executive order. 



 

Even the president of American Atheists Nick Fish sternly criticized the burning of the church and perceived it as a "heinous act of destruction." The logo found at the scene is one that is used by the group. "I’m disgusted that anyone would associate a symbol of our community with something so incompatible with our values as atheists. Pluralism, open dialogue, finding common ground, and protecting equality under the law has never been more important than they are today," expressed Mr. Fish in a statement. "Words cannot capture how strongly we condemn this heinous act of destruction. I hope that the perpetrator of this crime is swiftly brought to justice and held to account for their actions. No one should face violence of any kind because of their religion or lack thereof. No matter what our disagreements may be, violence is never the appropriate response," he continued. "My thoughts are with the members of the First Pentecostal Church during this difficult time."



 

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