Car shows, the First Amendment, and $30


The pastor of a large Baptist church in Fayette County, GA has been ordered by a county marshal to appear before a judge in August. The potential penalty could be up to $1,000 fine and 60 days in jail. The church held a car show on its property which, according to the county, requires a $30 permit fee. The church refused to pay and thus the confrontation.

I am not the pastor and cannot speak to the rightness or wrongness of the position he and the church have taken. However, I am a pastor and have been so for some five decades. During the pandemic, we, along with other churches, were faced with a dilemma. What do we do about restricted attendance, social distancing, suggested but not mandated mask wearing, and all the rest that caused angst among church leaders?

Our Council met on Zoom many times throughout the pandemic and grappled with the situation as best we could. We decided that we had two biblical mandates: (1) To obey those in authority over us, including the government. (2) To obey God rather than man. We sought to do both, as difficult as that was. At the very start, we eliminated two extreme positions: (1) To refuse to do anything different no matter what we were told, and (2) to shut down worship services until the pandemic was over.

So, we walked through those months and tried to remain as flexible as we could. Of course, not everyone in the church was happy, especially those who held opinions on one or the other extremes. As a result, we lost some people, but our goal was not to please everyone but to do the right things and keep our people safe while trying to fulfill those two biblical mandates. At the end, no one who attended our services caught or spread the Covid-19 virus. As far as I know, no one got sick, and no one died. Mission accomplished.

For over 13 years I was the senior pastor of Trinity Fellowship Church. Along about the tenth year of my tenure, the Official Board and I decided to start a Christian school. I soon discovered that the Fire Marshal had a say in what we would need to do to the building to come into compliance. It was going to cost us a bit. But we complied and eventually received the go ahead to begin the school. Today, though I have been gone from there almost 28 years, through excellent leadership and parents who sacrifice, Trinity Christian School now has around 1,900 students on two campuses. It was well worth the start-up costs and both biblical mandates were fulfilled.

Personally, I would have paid the $30 for the reasons mentioned above. But then, it’s not up to me and there may be valid reasons why the position was taken. Perhaps they believe it’s a First Amendment issue. For their part, the county has the power to exempt the church should it choose to do so. It just seems like an awful lot of fuss over $30.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King ( Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South ( He has been a weekly opinion columnist for The Citizen for over 27 years. He may be contacted at]


  1. “(1) To obey those in authority over us, including the government. ” Should a ” Family Fun Day” held by The Church be required to pay a few submit a request for permit in the name of safety ? Sounds simple just obey those who made the law requiring church’s to pay a fee and submit permit to gather? Hmmm advance notice. Fayette County EMT had advance notice this “Family Fun Day” had been advertised. This is totally blown up by Commissioner who met in a close door session ( or so I am told by commissoner ) to decide “What do we do?” It’s not the Pastor its the County Commissioners it’s the Government elected by the people , who are already in hot water with the citizens over the shelter for the “Dogs & Cats.” A little common sense goes a long way . Again the County knew the event was happening it’s not about safety , it appears to be about authority.

  2. Fiction – Apparently, you missed a county official’s explanation for going after the church. It’s all in the name of the event, not what is going on there.

    According to the Citizen: “County Administrator Steve Rapson said Monday that the citation was triggered by the name: Car show.”

    ”If they had simply said it was a ‘church event,’ the ordinance would not have been triggered and no citation would have been issued. But they insisted on calling it a car show, which under the ordinance requires a $30 permit.” The Citizen, “Fayette hauls Flat Creek Baptist pastor into court for car show” June 10, 2024

    So it is silly to get police and the court involved if the same event titled “craft show” or “church event” would not require a permit. As I also said, however, there are far more serious religious freedom threats to resist than this $30 permit, which seems like a legitimate government interest for a large gathering.

    • Bill – You’re correct that it is all in the name. If Rick Ross invited the celebrity A-list of hip-hoppers to a craft show that required a permit, then the church would have had to seek a permit for a craft show. This thing with Ross has a long history, and I can’t believe that the church was unaware of it.

      If they were not aware, they demonstrate significant ignorance of county affairs. If they were aware (probable), they were baiting the FCC so they could claim religious persecution. Either way, $30 saves everyone a lot of anguish, but it doesn’t make any headlines.

  3. This is a situation where neither side looks good. It’s silly to say that an event on private property needs a permit if it is called a car show, but the same event labeled a craft show would not. And to back it up with police and / or court action? Come on.

    That said, I don’t understand the church’s stance that having to get a $30 permit is a defining issue for the church. There are many other, larger issues of big government intruding on religious freedom to take a stand against.

    • Bill – The issue is that Rick Ross’ gargantuan car show requires a permit, and the commissioners didn’t think it would be fair to treat the church differently. You know, that pesky establishment clause in the First Amendment.

  4. Echoing the letter from Commissioner Oddo, this is a very reasonable response to a very reasonable ($30) request from the Fayette County Commission for the Baptist Church car shows permit.

    Why must these Baptists eternally be aggrieved? God must be shaking his/her head at these juvenile thinkers and their inventions of tempests in teapots. If the Baptists ever really faced a wolf, their cries would go unheeded after so many false alarms.

    Truth is stranger than fiction.

    • I have to agree with you STF, I’m still trying to figure out why FCBC refuses to cooperate with emergency services by providing them advanced notice of the event and their plans for it.

      Had the county unreasonable denied their permit, they’d have a first amendment case. But since FCBC failed to take the reasonable step of applying for a permit, then if anybody is a bully, Sen Harbin and Reverend Saefkow fit the bill, putting their church above the safety of the residents of the county.