WINNIPEG — Dozens of Manitoba churches are lobbying the provincial government.
A new online petition is calling on the Manitoba government to reopen churches, which have been under restrictions and guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our purpose is to see the full removal of all limits to the freedoms guaranteed to all Canadians in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms so that churches may continue serving Christ without threat of penalty for the glory of God,” says the petition’s website.
As part of Manitoba’s third phase of reopening, which begins on June 21, public gatherings of 50 people will be permitted indoors and 100 people will be allowed outdoors, as long as people can maintain physical distance. According to the province, this applies to worship, social gatherings, weddings, funerals, powwows, and other cultural or spiritual Indigenous events.
During this phase, larger group sizes will be permitted where groups of 50 or 100 people can be separated. This means indoor gatherings are allowed with a maximum group size of 30 per cent of a site’s capacity, as long as the group can be divided into sub-groups of 50 people or less.
The petition, which has been put together and signed by numerous churches in the province, points out that churches have not been able to fully operate since March, noting that active cases in Manitoba peaked months ago.
“In Manitoba and indeed around the world, the models used to try and justify the lockdowns have proven inaccurate by the order of magnitudes,” the letter says.
“Therefore, the limits to our guaranteed freedoms have not been demonstrably justified and must be immediately removed.”
It goes on to say the free assembly of the church is an “essential component of our worship” and that it is not the role of the state to say that online resources are a suitable substitute.
The petition says churches should be responsible for protecting its congregants against the risks of COVID-19, and that they will continue to pursue the issue.
“The church exists by the authority of Jesus Christ himself and not by the authority of the civil government,” it says.
“We are thankful to live in a country where the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the freedom of conscience and religion and the freedom of peaceful assembly to all Canadians.”
ONE OF 63 CHURCHES
Living in Florida but born in Winnipeg, Ralph Hoehne runs churches in both cities.
“In the state of Florida the governor here made churches an essential service from day one. We did close for a few weeks but we did open back up and we’ve had no issues and no people sick,” said Hoehne
That’s why his church, The Source Church, joined Reopen Manitoba Churches.
“It seems like it’s just a little over precautious from the government’s side for them to not allow the churches to be open,” Hoehne said
Hoehne thinks it should be up to the congregation to decide if they want to attend.
“We need to let people have a choice. If people want to come to they should be able to come to church. If they feel they want to stay home and be cautious that’s okay too,” he said.
“CHURCHES DON’T MAKE HEALTH POLICY”
When asked about the petition, Premier Brian Pallister urged the church organizations to “have a little faith.”
“I’m sure there’s something biblical or in the Quran about patience, and I would expect we need to have a little patience now,” the premier said.
“The churches won’t make health policy. Dr. Roussin and our health experts are making that health policy, and they have good reason for being careful about the restrictions that are necessary to keep us all safe. And I think it would be in the best interest of all us to show respect for that and make sure that we’re, all of us, working together to protect our own health and the health of others.”
Pallister noted that Phase Three has allowed for “significant latitude” in terms of faith-based organizations, and asks churches to respect Roussin’s health orders.
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