Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
A church congregation refuses to abide by the governor’s social-distancing decree. Members say, in effect, that their freedom of religion ought to give them license to get infected… and to infect other people in turn.
Refreshingly, this time it’s not just the pastor who faces legal consequences.
Georgia State Patrol officers charged five congregants Sunday with reckless conduct after they were accused of defying [Gov. Brian] Kemp’s order to keep six feet apart. The church’s leaders told Savannah-based TV station WTOC that they shouldn’t face restrictions.
“Our faith is just as important as commerce,” Clayton Cowart, president of the church’s parent organization, told the outlet. “Our faith is as important as the law.”
Cowart is on record, via the church’s Facebook page, with threats addressed to officers of the law who interfere with his church services. He says they’ll die fiery deaths. But since it’s God who’ll supposedly burn the sheriff and his deputies alive, there’s nothing legally actionable about that. Clever, really.
Authorities happened upon the congregation Sunday afternoon, when a Bulloch County sheriff’s deputy noticed about 40 cars in the parking lot of a squat building known as Church of God the Bibleway, according to an incident report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
A Georgia State Patrol trooper said he saw through a window that the meeting room was “very small” and the worshippers were not abiding by the executive order.
“I told them that they could have church, but they needed to move outside and adhere to the six-feet social distancing rule,” wrote the officer.
Upon which the assembly apologized, filed outside, and finished the service while keeping the recommended six-foot distance.
The officer said he soon saw congregants filling water to perform baptisms, shaking hands and hugging a pastor identified as Eli Porter. He warned the preacher that authorities would enforce the mandate and disperse the crowd.
The official police report noted that
… the leaders of the church were “very defiant” and “uncooperative” and that [the officer] eventually issued citations to Porter and four others after his requests were repeatedly ignored.
Christian persecution, yadda yadda, you know the rest.
(Screenshot via WTOC)