The federal Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted emergency relief pending appeal to the First Pentecostal Church of Holly Hills, MS. Not long after federal District Judge Michael P. Mills issued a blistering and sarcastic opinion against the church, someone firebombed the church building and burnt it to the ground early Wednesday morning. But, in a 3-0 opinion, the Court of Appeals granted the church’s request for an emergency injunction pending appeal. The church is represented by Steve Crampton of the Thomas More Society.
Unbelievably, the city of Holly Hills filed a brief arguing to the Court of Appeals that the church’s case was moot because the building was destroyed. In a concurring opinion, Judge Don Willett, wrote:
“The City mentions the church burning in its latest brief, but in a manner less commendable than condemnable. One might expect a city to express sympathy or outrage (or both) when a neighborhood house of worship is set ablaze. One would be mistaken. Rather than condemn the crime’s depravity, the City seized advantage, insisting that the Church’s First Amendment claim necessarily went up in smoke when the church did: ‘the Church was destroyed from an arson fire . . . making the permanent injunction claim moot.’
This argument is shameful.
When the parishioners of First Pentecostal Church leave their homes on Sundays, they are not going to church; they are the church. The church is not the building. When the New Testament speaks of the church, it never refers to brick-and-mortar places where people gather, but to flesh-and-blood people who gather together. Think people, not steeple.”
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The emergency relief granted by the Court of Appeals to the Mississippi church is bittersweet. This is a great victory for the church and for all churches. The pastor and the members have lost their building that was destroyed by hatred inspired by fiery rhetoric. However, they have defended the freedom to worship, and that legacy will last forever.”