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‘Arsonists’ burn down Mississippi church that fought coronavirus lockdown – and write sickening message in the car park – The Sun

A MISSISSIPPI church that fought the coronavirus lockdown was burned to the ground – and a message reading "bet you stay home now you hypokrites" was found in the parking lot.

Investigators found the disturbing graffiti after the First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs was destroyed.

A leading pastor and other church officials said they have no idea who might have set Wednesday's devastating fire.

“No enemies that we know of," Pastor Jerry Waldrop said.

"We don’t know anyone that we even think could be capable of doing something like this.”

The fire came two days before President Trump ordered governors to allow places of worship to reopen this weekend.

The church had sued the city of Holly Springs last month, alleging police had disrupted a church Bible study and Easter service.

Holly Springs City Attorney Shirley Byers said nearly 40 worshipers inside the church building were not practicing social distancing on April 10 when a citation was issued for the church.

Churchgoers practiced social distancing while indoors and only held indoor services when bad weather would not allow them to be outside, according to the lawsuit.

"To find that that graffiti is spray painted, 'I bet you stay home now you hypocrites' seems very clearly directed at this particular lawsuit and the church's stand for its own constitutional rights," church lawyer Stephen Crampton told WMC.

Byers said the city amended its local order to allow for drive-thru church services.

A safer-at-home order by Mississippi Gov Tate Reeves allows churches to operate as essential businesses, but it limits the size of indoor gatherings.

The order is set to expire on Monday.

The Republican governor has asked pastors to follow public health recommendations on social distancing and other practices.

Reeves issued guidelines this week for places of worship to restart services inside their buildings.

The governor said the fire and the message make him “heartbroken” and “furious.”

“This is not who we are as a people,” Reeves said.

"This is not who we are as a state.”

Authorities are offering a reward for leads connected to the arson.

The cruel church arson comes as Trump continues to put pressure on states to reopen churches.

"Today I'm identifying houses of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – as essential places that provide essential services," Trump said at the White House on Friday.

"I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now," he added.

"If there is any question, they're going to have to call me but they're not going to be successful in that call."

He said if governors don’t abide by his request, he will “override” them, though it’s unclear what authority he has to do so.

The CDC had prepared reopening guidelines for churches and other houses of worship weeks ago, but the White House had refused to release them until Thursday when Trump abruptly changed course.

The President criticized governors who deemed "liquor stores and abortion centers" essential, but not places of worship.

"It's not right," he said at the press conference. "So I'm correcting this injustice."

"These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united."

There have been 12,000 coronavirus cases in Mississippi, with 600 deaths.

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