Citizens of Greenville, Mississippi, observed police issue $500 tickets at King James Bible Baptist Church, for curfew violations on Maundy Thursday, as congregants sat in their cars in the church parking lot to listen to their pastor on the radio. Parishioners brought their case to a municipal judge, to contest the citations. Judge challenges city attorney to defend police action:
Municipal Judge: This is revenue enhancement. I don’t see any other way to characterize it.
City Attorney: Your honor, the city council passed this curfew in advance of Holy Week. We wanted to make sure people stay indoors at night.
MJ: I see a lot of people out at night, walking the dog, getting fresh air, what have you. Why would you surround a chuch parking lot with police cars, during a church service?
CA: Sir, that’s where the violators are.
MJ: At $500 a crack. A thousand if husband and wife attend the service together.
CA: The city council set the fine, not me.
MJ: Next you’ll tell me the city council seriously thinks a curfew will slow the spread of Covid-19.
CA: Of course it will. The more we keep people indoors, the safer we’ll be.
MJ: I know I brought up the pandemic, but I don’t want to argue public health policy here. I don’t see how you can target churchgoers who attend evening services during Holy Week. Doesn’t that seem not right to you?
CA: Nothing seems right during these times.
MJ: Suppose the council had set the fine at ten dollars. Do you suppose the department would have had nearly every cop on duty swarm the Baptist church parking lot halfway through the service?
CA: Your honor, I think you are mistaken about the revenue. The principle at issue here is compliance. People have to obey the law.
MJ: Not if law enforcement discriminates against churchgoers, and leaves others alone.
CA: The police have issued other citations.
MJ: I checked the records. In the week before Holy Week, police cited three people, for a total of $150. They wrote down the tickets, as the full penalty was clearly exorbitant. During Holy Week, they issued forty-two tickets, for a total of twenty-one thousand dollars. You tell me you’re not talking about revenue?
CA: Once we heard congregants wanted to resist the law as they prepared for Easter Sunday, police decided to respond.
MJ: With $500 tickets.
CA: It’s only just.
MJ: Attorney, did you go to church on Easter Sunday?
CA: Yes, I did, Sunday morning. We don’t have a curfew in the morning.
MJ: Court finds for complainants. If you have to hit up Holy Week congregants for a thousand bucks a car in a church parking lot, you are hurting, and I don’t mean financially. You are hurting morally.
Then, sotto voce to the city attorney: “Tell that idiot police chief, don’t do this again.”