Update 7 p.m. – The City of Wilmington and the Wilmington Police Department have walked back their ban on ‘drive-in’ services.
WILMINGTON — The Wilmington Police Department has taken its official stance on ‘drive-in’ church services for churches saying these gatherings would be in violation of state and local orders if they exceed more than 10 people (inside or outside).
But a local law firm is challenging that thought, and it seems that even Governor Roy Cooper is on the record confirming to the state sheriff’s association that drive-in services would be permitted — provided worshipers stay in their cars.
Coastal Legal Counsel, the law firm, sent a press release on the issue Thursday afternoon offering an opinion on the city’s decision and deeming it potentially unconstitutional.
“On Wednesday, April 8, 2020, the Wilmington Police Department issued a statement concerning drive-in worship services for all area churches stating that Governor Roy Cooper’s current Executive Order and local Declarations prohibit drive-in worship services. We believe this statement is not an accurate representation of the Governor’s current Executive Order. In a letter sent to the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association on March 31, 2020, Governor Cooper stated that drive-in worship gatherings ‘appear to be acceptable as long as individuals remain in their vehicles and avoid contact,'” according to the press release.
Not only does it appear to be permitted by the Governor himself, the law firm also says the ban could infringe on residents’ constitutional rights, mainly the First and Fourth Amendments.
“As attorneys, we believe that the City’s attempt to prohibit drive-in worship services is a violation of each citizen’s civil rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution (“Constitution”) as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. The First Amendment to the Constitution ensures that the Government will make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. A proscription against the freedom to exercise religion safely from inside your motor vehicle is in direct violation of the Constitution, according to the release.
“It also contradicts the information provided by our Governor to our sheriffs across the State. To further confound the molestation of our citizens’ Constitutional rights, the prohibition on drive-in worship services will be enforced by unreasonable government seizures carried out by the hands of our local police. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that being pulled over or stopped by the police without evidence that an actual crime or violation has been committed is a government seizure in violation of the Constitution. In light of Governor Cooper’s statement on this issue, we believe that using the Wilmington Police Department to stop random citizens from worshiping safely from their vehicles and potentially arresting them is unconstitutional.”
Wilmington Police Department Spokeswoman Linda Thompson said the department is waiting on an update from the city’s legal department regarding the limitations of drive-in services. She also clarified that services were not outright prohibited by the current order, it simply limits the number of participants to 10.