FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. — More than 100 vintage and classic automobiles were spread across the Flat Creek Baptist Church campus on Saturday in defiance of government officials who had threatened to levy a hefty fine if the congregation didn’t cancel a car show.
“We’re not doing this in a spirit of rebellion,” said Pastor Josh Saefkow, standing amid hundreds of car enthusiasts and church members. “We’re doing this out of a commitment to Christ because there are people in this parking lot right now who are broken and in need of a Savior. That’s why we’re doing this event, to point men, women, boys, and girls to Jesus.”
Saefkow and his church plan to contest the fine if county officials follow through on the threat. They say they will rely on the First Amendment, which forbids government from infringing on their religious freedom.
“It’s definitely a First Amendment issue, and it’s certainly also a Biblical issue,” Saefkow said. “All the churches in Georgia should be paying attention to what’s happening here, because, if government can tell us when it’s acceptable to meet, that’s a problem for all churches.”
Sheriff Barry Babb and several of his deputies were at the car show to direct traffic and to display three of their own historic cruisers, including a 1937 Ford with a patched bullet hole from long ago.
Babb said he wanted to show his support for the church.
“Sometimes government officials forget who they work for,” he said. “They work for the people.”
Passersby oohed and aahed when they approached Larry Wright’s sky blue 1968 Camaro. The Fayetteville man had rebuilt the muscle car from the wheels up, and he was excited to bring it to the car show and to join others in sending a message to the county officials.
“This is church property, and they have no jurisdiction here,” Wright said.
Flat Creek’s executive minister, Chris Sanchez, said county officials will have clearly overstepped their bounds if they follow through on the threat to levy a $1,000 fine against the church.
Not only is the church protected by the First Amendment, Sanchez said he has read the county code and found nothing in it that forbids a church from hosting a car show.
“This egregious,” he said.
In the days leading up the car show, Fayette County Administrator Steve Rapson warned the church not to go ahead with the event.
“If they have a car show, they will be fined,” he told The Fayetteville Citizen.
Rapson’s threat was a marketing boon for the church, exponentially heightening interest in the car show.
Saefkow, president of the 1.2 million-member Georgia Baptist Convention, vowed that his church would not be bullied.
“It’s clear to me that some of our public servants have gotten a little too big for their britches,” he told his congregation last Sunday.
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