New York pastor threatened with $1,000 fine for holding drive-in church service
MASSENA, N.Y. - A New York church with 40 members held a drive-in service Sunday after being warned by police that it was a violation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's stay-at-home order amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Pastor Samson Ryman, who leads Central Bible Baptist Church in upstate New York, held his first drive-in service May 3 with 23 attendees in 18 vehicles. The next day the Massena Police Department issued an informal cease-and-desist to the pastor.
"I was kind of shocked by that," Ryman told Fox News. Before holding the service, he got permission from state and local officials.
"We're not trying to be rebellious," he added. "We're just trying to be safe and reach our community with the gospel of Jesus Christ in these difficult times when people are having anxiety, worry, different mental concerns, and they want to get some spiritual help, through the word of God, some hope, and I believe we can do that safely with a drive-in."
The pastor contacted the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, which sent a letter to the police department Friday, warning that legal action would be taken if police followed through on the threat.
Pastor Samson Ryman preaches during a drive-in service Sunday, May 17, 2020. (Courtesy of Central Bible Baptist Church)
"We do have the law behind us," John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, told Fox News. "I think they got the message so far."
The pastor spoke from the church's porch while attendees stayed in their cars, listening on an FM radio transmitter, windows up. On Sunday, there were no police at the church, but the concern for First Amendment rights still stands.
"You shouldn't be shutting down churches," Whitehead added. "If you can go to bars and get carry-out... this doesn't make any sense. Let people worship safely and let's get back to normal and above all, let's protect our Constitution."
A federal court in Kentucky recently ruled that churches are allowed to hold drive-in services despite government officials forbidding them.
"We appreciate our police force here," Ryman added. "We appreciate our mayor and we're praying for him and the decisions he makes and for our officers. We just want to be able to give people hope."