Mississippi Church That Defied Stay-at-Home Orders Burned to the Ground in Suspected Arson

A church in Holly Springs, Mississippi, that had sued the city after being reprimanded for defying stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic burned down last week in an incident that is now being investigated as an arson. The Marshall County Sheriff's Office told CBS News that after First Pentecostal Church burned down, investigators found graffiti on the church property reading: "Bet you stay home now you hypokrites." (sic)

In April, First Pentecostal Church sued Holly Springs, claiming that police officers had interrupted a "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," according to the lawsuit. The church also claimed that police also interrupted an Easter Sunday service, issuing a citation to Pastor Jerry Waldrop for violating the stay-at-home order, asking for "immediate and long-term relief from this unconstitutional order."

In response to the filing, Judge Michael P. Mills said that church had been "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 added that church members had also staged "a mass visit" to Walmart "merely to make a point in their dispute with the City."

"This court considers the visit depicted in the video to have been highly reckless in light of the ongoing pandemic, and it frankly suspects that plaintiff's members regard this controversy as a game of sorts and enjoy the publicity attendant to it," Mills wrote in his ruling.

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After the church burned down, Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted he was "heartbroken and furious" at the news, sharing a photo of the remnants of the church building. "What is this pandemic doing to us? We need prayer for this country," he wrote. Mississippi's safer-at-home order expired Monday, according to The Associated Press, which allowed churches to operate as essential businesses with limited congregation sizes.