District court rules church in Holly Springs can relocate

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

HOLLY SPRINGS – Judge Michael Mills ruled Thursday that Opulent Life Church can proceed with preparations to move to its leased storefront space on the downtown square in Holly Springs.
Mills, chief judge of the U.S. Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining the City of Holly Springs to “cease enforcement of its prohibition against religious organizations on the square.”
“We are very pleased that the court will prevent Holly Springs from continuing its unlawful and discriminatory conduct,” said Oxford attorney Reed Martz, who is part of the church’s legal team.
The church contends the city’s requirement for religious institutions to get approval of the mayor and nearby residents to locate in the downtown business district violates the Constitution and specific federal law. Pastor Telsa DeBerry has said staying in smaller quarters in a less desirable location has constrained both membership growth and community outreach.
“This case continues to set valuable precedent,” said Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute, which is coordinating the church’s legal representation. “Religious freedom is an inalienable right that should not be granted or prohibited at the whim of a single government official.”
The city’s ordinance designates area facing the Marshall County Courthouse Square “for certain retail, office and service uses which will complement historic nature and traditional functions of the court square area as the heart of the community life.”
Even though museums and libraries are welcomed on the square, Holly Springs officials have argued that funerals and other church events could interfere with downtown parking.
Mills’ orders are in effect until the court issues a ruling after the case goes to trial in April.
errol.castens@journalinc.com