Fayette County cites Flat Creek Baptist pastor for car show

Cars are displayed during the Cars and Crafts at the Creek 2024 event at Flat Creek Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., on Saturday, June 1. (Photo/Flat Creek Bap0tist Church via Facebook)
Cars are displayed during the Cars and Crafts at the Creek 2024 event at Flat Creek Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga., on Saturday, June 1. (Photo/Flat Creek Bap0tist Church via Facebook)

It’s likely a Fayette County first: A county marshal ordered a church pastor to appear before a judge to answer for a publicly advertised car show held during daylight hours entirely within the church property.

Pastor Josh Saefkow faces a possible fine of up to $1,000 and up to 60 days in the county jail for allowing a combined car and craft show, called Cars and Crafts at the Creek 2024, to be held on the campus of Flat Creek Baptist Church on Saturday, June 1.

Saefkow said the church is within its First Amendment rights to assemble and participate in such a gospel outreach program as a craft show and displays of parked cars. Saefkow is the current president of the Georgia Baptist Association. There was no entrance fee for either vehicles or people, and the church made no money on the event, the pastor said.

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," Rapson said, "But they insisted on calling it a car show, which under the ordinance requires a $30 permit.”

Prior outdoor events have brought more than 1,000 people in attendance.

Rapson made the fine threat a year ago before the show and made good on his promise last week. Saefkow was ordered to appear before State Court Judge Jason B. Thompson on Aug. 15. The pastor invited the congregation and choir to attend the hearing in Courtroom 2-D at 1 Center Drive in Fayetteville.

Chief Marshal Lem Miller, who served the citation on the pastor, said in his 24 years with the Marshal’s office, he could not recall any county zoning ordinance violation resulting in any jail time.

“They did not apply for a conditional use permit,” said Planning and Zoning Director Deborah Bell Monday. The Zoning Department let the county marshal know and a citation was issued, she said.

Unlike a violation for a building permit — many of which are resolved before court — “this was an event, not a building. We can’t issue a permit for an event after the event has occurred,” Bell said.

“Flat Creek Baptist Church’s purpose is to evangelize the lost and to disciple the Christ follower,” Saefkow said in a written statement to The Citizen. “All it does (including a car show) is to fulfill this God-given task.

“Since our purpose is, by definition, a religious purpose, the Government (federal, state, county, or city) cannot restrict any reasonable religious activity without an overriding compelling interest. We do not see a ‘permit’ as such an interest and plan to contest this decision from our commissioners,” Saefkow said.

Opposing the church’s position are three county commissioners — Charles Oddo, Edward Gibbons and Charles Rousseau — according to Fayette State Senator Marty Harbin, a member of Flat Creek Baptist, a 198-year-old church located on Flat Creek Trail just north of Peachtree City.

Supporting the church are commissioners Eric Maxwell and Lee Hearn, Harbin said in a letter.

According to the county ordinance, “The citation for the alleged violation shall be heard in the state court of the county. The court shall give the person a full opportunity to be heard and, if the defendant is adjudged to be guilty, the court shall determine the extent and nature of the violation and the appropriate penalty.

“… A person convicted of a violation of this Code shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 60 days, or any combination thereof.”

The June 1 car and craft show was the third in as many years.


This story first appeared in The Citizen. Cal Beverly is a member of Flat Creek Baptist Church.