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Church members ticketed for attending parking lot church

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A Greenville police officer tickets a man attending a drive-in church service that the city has banned. (Image via screen capture from Facebook video)

Parking lot services have become one way for people to attend church services during the COVID-19 outbreak. Worshipers drive to the church parking lot, stay in their cars and tune to a radio station. The services are usually conducted on a stage set up on the parking lot so the members can watch as they listen in their vehicles.

On Tuesday, the City of Greenville passed an ordinance that not only closed all churches to in-person services, it also made it a misdemeanor to hold drive-in services.

“Because of recent COVID-19 cases specifically linked to church gatherings, it is vital that Mississippians not attend in-person church services at any church or other type of facility. Services, weddings, and funerals are leading to greater COVID-19 transmission,” wrote Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons in the ordinance, adding, “Churches are strongly encouraged to hold services via Facebook Live, Zoom, Free Conference Call, and any and all other social media, streaming, and telephonic platforms.”

While the majority of churches are complying with the emergency order, some of Greenville’s pastors decided to hold parking-lot services despite the ordinance. Greenville is enforcing the ban by giving attendees $500 tickets.

A video surfaced Thursday of police ticketing a church member in the parking lot of Temple Baptist Church while the preacher’s voice is heard over the speakers. The officer approached the vehicle and gave the him an opportunity to leave. When he decided to stay, the officer asked for his license and wrote a ticket. The officer was not wearing gloves but was wearing a mask. The church member mentioned that the pen the officer handed him to sign the ticket and the ticket book were possible ways to spread the virus. One online commenter noted, “By enforcing the code the police endangered the person more than just sitting in his car.”

Another video today shows the same type of event with officers threatening to ticket church members in Greenville at another church. “This is going on in Greenville. All these police. King James Bible Baptist Church on April 9th, 2020,” said an obviously upset Pastor Charles E. Hamilton Jr. Turning the camera on himself he said, “Hey children of God, this is real!”

Despite the commotion, no attendees were issued tickets.

The incidents have made national news.

Gov. Tate Reeves weighed in on the topic in a Facebook post Friday saying “If you send police after worshipers trying to social distance, you are going to have Mississippians revolt.”

Earlier this week, Greenville Mayor Simmons held a conference call with the city’s pastors, reports Pen and Pulpit. Of the approximately two-dozen pastors on the call, only four spoke against the ordinance. As of this writing, the ordinance has not been lifted or changed; however, at least some of the tickets have been suspended, and congregants will not have to pay the fine.

Pastor Hamilton said he will continue to defy the ordinance, saying he will hold services on Sunday.

The Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit Friday on behalf of the Temple Baptist Church.

COVID-19

Half of Mississippi’s counties are now under governor’s mask mandates

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Gov. Tate Reeves during a news conference Oct. 19, 2020. (photo via video screen grab)

Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced a continuation of his county-level attempt to lower the number of COVID-19 cases in Mississippi by adding 19 counties to the list of those under expanded restrictions.

Half of Mississippi’s counties — 41 of 82 — are now under mask mandates. The counties added Tuesday are Alcorn, Attala, Bolivar, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Lafayette, Lawrence, Lincoln, Lowndes, Neshoba, Panola, Perry, Prentiss, Stone, Tippah, Tishomingo and Union. Click here to see a map showing the rest of the counties under the expanded restrictions and self-imposed mask mandates.

“This is a critical time,” Reeves said of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, asking Mississippians to please be extra cautious and look out for loved ones.

“There is much more COVID-19 around us,” he added, emphasizing that there is a greater risk to unknowingly pass the virus to loved ones as the state experiences a surge in new cases.

“The risk is greater,” he said.

Numerous health officials have called on the governor to issue a statewide mask mandate, but so far, he has resisted taking that action.

“If you issue the mask mandates on a county-by-county basis, based on where the number of cases is the largest, then that is the best strategy to convince the most number of our fellow Mississippians to wear a mask,” Reeves said.

To prove the point, the governor compared other states where mask mandates have been in place for months that now have much higher rates of infection than Mississippi.

He also said that he believes wearing a mask is helpful in slowing the spread of the virus and urged all Mississippi residents to wear masks in public.

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Officials urging comments to support Corps’ Yazoo Backwater statement

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U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith spoke with flood victims at Valley Park, Miss., in 2019. (Photo by David Day)

State officials are urging Mississippians to weigh in on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Impact Statement in support of finishing the Yazoo Backwater Pumps by the Monday deadline.

“We’ve seen the devastation that the backwater flooding has caused to Mississippi agriculture, farmers, ranchers and wildlife for years now, unnecessarily. The solution is simple, we need to finish the Yazoo Pump Project, which would prevent flood damage to urban and agricultural areas throughout the state for years to come,” said Andy Gipson, commissioner of agriculture and commerce, in a statement.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently accepting comments from citizens through Monday, Nov. 30, on the Yazoo Area Pump Project, and I encourage all Mississippians to take a moment and submit a comment of support. We need to stand up for our friends in the Mississippi South Delta and help them in their time of need. It’s time to finish the pumps.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann tweeted a brief video Monday in support of the finishing the pumps.

Comments must be submitted by Monday, Nov. 30. Submit comments using one of the following methods:

  • Text PUMPS to 50457.
  • Send a voicemail or text message to 601-392-2237.
  • Go to https://www.forgottenbackwaterflood.com/ or https://finishthepumps.com/ to fill out an online form to send to the Corps.
  • Fill out a postcard available at sites around the state including Valley Park Elevator in Valley Park, Lo-Sto and Yore Convenience Store in Eagle Lake, Mississippi Ag Company and Chuck’s Dairy Bar in Rolling Fork, Mississippi Levee Board and Sherman’s Restaurant in Greenville, Toney’s Grill in Vicksburg and the Mississippi Delta Council in Stoneville.
  • Send an email to [email protected]
  • Write to the Corps at the following address:
    District Engineer
    S. Army Corps of Engineers
    Vicksburg District
    4155 Clay Street
    Vicksburg, MS 39183-3435
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Business

Cars line up on Starbucks’ opening day

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Cars lined up down the block on Starbucks' opening day Tuesday. (photo by Thomas Parker)

Cars lined up Tuesday at the new Vicksburg Starbucks drive-thru window to get a first taste of the chain’s coffee beverages and food offerings.

Starbucks, based in Seattle, Washington, announced last year that it was adding a location in Vicksburg at 3405 Halls Ferry Road, and many in the community were eagerly awaiting the chance visit the well-known coffee shop. Before, if a Vicksburg resident wanted Starbucks, they would have to drive about 30 minutes to Clinton for the nearest location.

It remains to be seen how business will hold up after the initial rush subsides. Some are curious how the opening will impact Vicksburg’s coffee shop Cafe Paradiso, a local favorite, which is just a stone’s throw away in an adjacent strip center.

The opening and public opinion on Starbuck’s corporate policies have been hot topics on social media in recent weeks. Tuesday, many locals posted photos of their purchased Starbucks items.

The Vicksburg location will be open six days a week from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is closed Sundays.

Thomas Parker contributed to this story.

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