Chattanooga Mayor Berke allowing drive-in church services amid COVID-19 after lawsuit alleges rights violation

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ From the third floor of City Hall in Chattanooga, Mayor Andy Berke announces an executive order to halt large gatherings, including entertainment shows at the Tivoli, Friday morning, Mar. 13, 2020.

Just two days after a local church brought a lawsuit against the city alleging a violation of the U.S. Constitution, Mayor Andy Berke is allowing drive-in church services this Sunday.

Berke posted the message on social media Saturday morning, saying he had "spoken to pastors who assured me they could operate drive in church safely, with spaces between the cars and no collection plates."

The mayor previously barred drive-in services for fear of spreading the coronavirus. On Thursday, Metropolitan Tabernacle Church brought a lawsuit against Berke and the city, alleging the order violated its First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion, to assemble and to free speech.

Metro Tab, led by Pastor William Steven Ball, held its last in-person worship service on March 15 and was planning to begin drive-in services on Easter, when visitors could listen to the service in their vehicles through a short-range FM transmitter. Berke's ban, announced just before Easter, prompted the local church to bring the lawsuit.