By Jonathon Van Maren
Back in December, I wrote an essay for Convivium Magazine explaining why churches and houses of worship have been so neglected by politicians during the COVID-19 pandemic and why church-attending Christians, as an increasingly miniscule minority, have seen their services dismissed as non-essential (or even dangerous.) As you may have noticed, I have, for the most part, avoided writing about the pandemic except in relation to the subjects I usually address—there is simply too much about COVID-19, the restrictions, responses, and treatments (etc.) that I do not have the expertise to opine on, and I find it very hard to discern the facts in our competing maelstroms of information and disinformation.
That said, as we enter year two of lockdowns and draconian restrictions without even an attempt by politicians to investigate the cost-benefit with regard to mental health, deferred treatments, and consequences, it is hard not to reach the conclusion that many of them simply have no idea what they’re doing. (One of the primary critics of government responses to the pandemic has been Peter Hitchens, and I interviewed him on the subject for The American Conservative.) Additionally, it is now impossible not to conclude that when it comes to crackdowns on worship, governments are going too far. ARPA Canada, a grassroots Christian advocacy group, has a very good essay objecting to bans on in-person worship, which you can read here.
Some churches across Canada have been meeting for services in defiance of lockdown measures, with a range of responses—some have been fined by police, others have been ignored. Several churches in British Columbia, which has allowed only a handful to meet for services regardless of the size of the building for months, are now simply disobeying the orders. As a result, the government—led, it must be noted, by the New Democratic Party, which called a snap election during a pandemic in order to politically benefit from the dire circumstances the province was in—is going even further. From the CBC:
B.C.’s provincial health officer is seeking an injunction prohibiting gatherings by three Christian churches that are challenging her orders suspending in-person religious services. Lawyers for Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C.’s attorney general will be in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday seeking orders against the leaders of Langley’s Riverside Calvary Chapel, Abbotsford’s Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack.
The province filed an application for the injunction last week along with a response to a petition by the churches and a handful of others who want to overturn Henry’s orders. According to the court documents, the province is seeking an order that would prevent elders and members from gathering to worship in their churches and from organizing celebrations, ceremonies, baptisms, funerals or any other “event” as defined by Henry’s orders.
The order would also authorize police to detain anyone they have grounds to believe is planning to attend a religious service organized by any of the three churches.
The application for the injunction comes just days after Henry announced an indefinite extension to the orders she issued last November suspending all events and social gatherings in an effort to reduce COVID-19 transmission. In a petition filed in early January, pastors with the three Fraser Valley Christian churches claim that Henry is violating rights to expression and religious worship guaranteed by the Constitution by shutting churches while allowing restaurants and businesses to remain open.
Regardless of what you think of what these church leaders are doing—my own denomination is thus far following the government rules—this is incredibly disturbing. To reiterate: The order would authorize police to arrest those that they believe might be planning to attend a religious service at one of these churches. That is an unbelievable overreach, and almost seems to be designed to stick a thumb in the eye of religious leaders. Many politicians have gotten far too comfortable with far-reaching powers over the last year, and this is an extremely unsettling example.
I hope that the injunction is refused and that the churches succeed in court. In America, the U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned California’s restrictions on religious services as unreasonable and neglecting to give weight to the essential nature of worship. I have far less faith in our thoroughly post-Christian judicial system, but perhaps with this draconian request, a government official has finally crossed the line in a manner obvious enough to warrant a rebuke.