A court in Manitoba, Canada, ruled that a church in the province is not exempt from COVID-19 lockdown orders against houses of worship and that the congregation is not permitted even to gather for drive-in services.
Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal denied a plea from Springs Church in Winnipeg to hold drive-in services in its parking lot, striking down the church’s request to be given a stay of the province’s public health order that forbids in-person religious gatherings, according to the CBC.
“The congregation attending in cars are persons,” Joyal argued. “They are persons who have attended for a common purpose.”
“These orders necessarily restrict rights … in order to prevent death, illness and the overwhelming of the public health system in Manitoba,” Joyal further ruled. “I do not believe that the applicants meet their burden of showing that [the church] will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted.”
The church and two of its pastors have been fined more than $32,000 for having allowed the drive-in services in defiance of the province’s public health order. The order, which is set to expire Dec. 11, prohibits places of worship from being open to the public. Manitoba’s onerous lockdown orders also ban stores from selling non-essential items and render visitors in private homes illegal.
“We have to ask ourselves why the government has deemed it unsafe for Manitobans to drive to their place of worship with their windows rolled up for the entirety of a service and practice their faith,” said Pastor Leon Fontaine, who has been personally fined multiple times to the tune of more than $5,000. “We believe that Manitobans can have their right to practice their faith upheld while simultaneously upholding government COVID-19 prevention rules.”
“I know that with the united voice of our community, regardless of your faith, we can show our elected politicians that they can innovate [and] keep COVID-19 measures in place, while looking for ways to safely bolster the spirit of our community and protect Canadian Charter rights,” Fontaine added.
Fontaine was rebuked by 50 other pastors for taking a stand. The pastors accused him of being “not an example of following Christ.” In an open letter the pastors said in part:
We find that your insistence on the right to worship is not in keeping with Christ’s command to love our neighbor. We find that your actions disregard the dangers of COVID-19 in our community and that they only serve to create potential harm for our healthcare system and healthcare workers already pushed beyond capacity.
Springs Church is not the only house of worship in Manitoba to suffer the consequences of the province’s lockdown. As The Daily Wire reported:
Police blocked congregants from attending a drive-in church service at a church in rural Manitoba, Canada, on Sunday morning.
As depicted in a Facebook video, police blocked cars from entering the parking lot of the Church of God Steinbach, forcing them to line up on the adjacent street to listen to Senior Pastor Heinrich Hildebrandt preach from over a loudspeaker, according to The Christian Post.
“God has given us the right to worship Him together and He wants to see His people united,” Hildebrandt preached. “It seems like we’re living in a different Canada. It’s very heartbreaking to me.”
The Church of God at Steinbach, which is about 40 miles southeast of Winnipeg in Steinbach, Manitoba, was fined $5,000 last week for holding services in defiance of what Hildebrandt described as “draconian and unconstitutional orders.”