A Mississippi church that defied coronavirus restrictions was burned to the ground early Wednesday in a suspected arson case. "Bet you stay home now you hypokrits," read a spray-painted message on the ground near the doors to First Pentecostal Church in Holly Springs, a city of 7,600, Maj. Kelly McMillen of the Marshall County Sheriff's Department tells the New York Times. The graffiti also included an atomic symbol with the letter "A" in the middle, which the Times notes is used as a symbol for atheism. The church had sued the city in April over its stay-at-home order, arguing it interfered with officials' right to free speech and ability to worship. A church lawyer says police cited the pastor for holding an Easter service and later closed a Bible study. A video shows church members confronting city officials at a local Walmart on Easter.
A judge refused the church's request to block the stay-at-home order last week, noting a subsequent order approved drive-in church services. Judge Michael P. Mills also described his fears that church members were "proceeding in an excessively reckless and cavalier manner and with insufficient respect for the enormity of the health crisis which the COVID-19 pandemic presents." Investigators are to review the scene Friday. A can of spray paint and a flashlight have already been found. "We'll probably be there till dark … because we're going to have to go through each and every piece of it," says McMillen. "What is this pandemic doing to us? We need prayer for this country," Gov. Tate Reeves tweeted Thursday in reference to the church, per NBC News. Another building has been offered on loan, per WMC. (Read more arson stories.)