DOJ sides with church in lawsuit claiming it was unfairly targeted in enforcement of social distancing rules
Attorney General Bill Barr (screengrab).

The Justice Department is taking the side of a Mississippi church in a lawsuit against police who fined churchgoers $500 for refusing to stop congregating in a parking lot of Temple Baptist Church in Greenville after a drive-in church service, according to Fox News. According to the DOJ, the fines strongly suggest "that the city’s actions target religious conduct."

Fox News exclusively obtained a statement of interest on Tuesday where the DOJ said the U.S. regularly files statements of interest on “important issues of religious liberty in courts at every level, from trial courts to the Supreme Court of the United States," adding that Attorney General Bill Barr has “issued comprehensive guidance interpreting religious-liberty protections” under the Constitution.

“This case raises issues of national public importance regarding the interplay between the government’s compelling interest in protecting public health and safety from COVID-19 and citizens’ fundamental right to free exercise of religion,” the statement continues.

“The allegations in this complaint strongly suggest that the city’s prohibition of drive-in church services, despite the inclusion of measures to reduce the risk such as requiring people to remain in their cars, are neither neutral nor generally applicable,” the DOJ added.

The statement argues the city singled out churches for special treatment "not imposed on other entities the state has designated as essential services.”