By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press
The lawsuit comes as the number of confirmed cases in Tennessee climbed to more than 6,500 on Friday — including roughly 90 employees at a local Tyson plant just outside of Nashville.
A conservative legal group called Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit this week on behalf of Metropolitan Tabernacle Church, based in Chattanooga.
The complaints follows Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s declaration that drive-in religious services would violate the city’s shelter-in-place directive that has been in place since April 2.
Separately, Gov. Bill Lee has issued a statewide stay-at-home order until April 30. However, the Republican governor’s order does not restrict types of worship.
The 19-page lawsuit alleges that the city is violating the First Amendment.
Specifically, the plaintiffs point to the Justice Department recently siding with a church in Mississippi, where local officials had tried to stop Holy Week services broadcast to congregants sitting in their cars in the parking lot.
That Mississippi mayor eventually conceded that drive-in church services could continue after facing two lawsuits on the matter but ordered attendees to keep their windows up.
Berke’s spokeswoman said the city had no comment on the pending litigation but said that the mayor had reached out multiple times to local faith leaders during the coronavirus crisis.
“The vast majority of them realize the severity of this crisis and the importance of what we are asking from the public right now,” said Richel Albright in an email. “People, of course, need to be able to worship, but they must worship safely, and in a way that protects their health and the health of others.”
In Kentucky, a federal judge sided with a local Louisville church’s effort to continue broadcasting Easter service to congregants in their car; where he sternly criticized local leaders halting such services and called such actions “unconstitutional.”
A handful of similar lawsuits have popped up across the country, with many churches pointing out that drive-thru restaurants and liquor stores are often still allowed to operate.
Lee announced earlier this week that “testing will be available for any Tennessean, regardless of traditional symptoms.”
The expanded testing effort will be conducted Saturday and Sunday, with the Tennessee National Guard popping up 15 drive-thru testing sites across the state. Drive-thru testing sites will also be available during the weekends of April 25-26 and May 2-3.
The Republican governor has said he wants to reopen the economy by May 1 after his stay-at-home order expires.
Meanwhile, Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department told WKRN-TV on Friday that around 90 employees at a Tyson plant in Goodlettsville tested positive for the virus.
Sixty of those employees live in Davidson County, while the remaining employees live in nearby counties, department spokesman Brian Todd said.
Todd told the news organization that the department is conducting contact tracing among the confirmed cases of employees who live in Davidson County. Meanwhile, other health departments will monitor the other employees.
Also Friday, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited no deficiencies after an investigation into the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing, where at least 19 people have died in a COVID-19 outbreak in which more than 100 residents and staff tested positive.
An attorney has filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue over the facility on behalf of family members of staff and residents, saying he’s been informed about at least one employee showing up sick and being urged not to go home. A spokeswoman for the center has vehemently denied that.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise contributed to this report.
Source: The Village Reporter