Mayor Berke, Chattanooga face more lawsuits alleging First Amendment violations in response to coronavirus

Gavel tile / photo courtesy of Getty Images
Gavel tile / photo courtesy of Getty Images

A second and third lawsuit against Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and the city have emerged, again alleging the mayor violated the U.S. Constitution by temporarily banning drive-in church services to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Last week, Metropolitan Tabernacle Church filed a lawsuit saying the actions were not justified and violated its First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion, to assemble and to free speech. The church said the mayor's order to ban drive-in services, which was announced just days before Easter, specifically targeted houses of worship, while retail centers and other businesses are allowed to have full parking lots, according to the lawsuit.

Berke since removed the ban and said he would allow drive-in services.

However, the city is facing two more lawsuits with similar allegations.

On April 15, Chattanooga resident Daniel Davis filed a lawsuit with the Tennessee Eastern District Court, saying Berke's executive order targeted churches "despite businesses that are not constitutionally protected being allowed to continue drive-in and drive-thru services or allow more than ten people."

Davis gave the same example in his lawsuit as the one filed by Metropolitan Tabernacle Church, with both saying people were allowed to gather in parking lots at Sonic but not at churches.

The third lawsuit, filed by Turkeisha Douglass on April 17, also alleges a First Amendment violation since she was not able to attend the planned drive-in Easter service at the First Church of the Nazarene. Douglass alleges there is "no evidence that drive-in church services pose any real risk of serious illness or death" and attending Easter service is a "fundamental pillar" of her faith.

Douglass is being represented by the California-based Barnes Law, which recently defended Alex Jones in the defamation lawsuit brought by parents of a victim in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. Jones was fined for spreading conspiracy theories and saying the shooting, which killed 28 people including 20 children under seven years old, was a hoax.

The mayor's office declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Upcoming Events