This may come as a surprise to people who know how I feel about religion, but how I feel about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms trumps those personal views.
I agree with faith leaders that the recent ban on worship services was arbitrary and unfair.
Fortunately, Northern Health reversed that decision, but it does not excuse the fact places of worship were singled out when the Nov. 30 order was issued.
The Nov. 30 public health order stated: “A person must not permit a place of worship to be used for, or organize, lead or participate in, a worship service inside or outside.”
Meanwhile, the same order did not apply to restaurants, pubs, theatres, sporting activities and other organized events.
Of course, although not explicitly stated, we all know why worship services had been singled out. In certain religious communities — definitely not all and not even the majority — vaccination rates are much lower than the general population. Some faith leaders have even been actively encouraging people not to get vaccinated.
We know, although even this is not accepted by some people, that transmission of COVID-19 is more prevalent among non-vaccinated people and those unvaccinated individuals who do contract the virus tend get much sicker than vaccinated individuals who get it.
Let’s give health authorities the benefit of the doubt that they were acting with the best of intentions, but that did not justify the blanket ban.
If I go to an organized event, as I did on Dec. 4 at the Lester Centre’s high school production of the musical Matilda in Prince Rupert, I expect to wear a mask, be asked to show my vaccine passport and keep my distance as much as possible from other people.
If those regulations were good enough for the Lester Centre, pubs, restaurants and sports venues, why weren’t they good enough for churches, mosques and synagogues?
Of course, there may be a few places of worship that would have ignored the regulations (as there are some other venues that do), but that is a matter for enforcement, not for proactive discrimination.
During the ban, in Prince Rupert, a new group calling itself ReopenWorship.org encouraged people to get together in small groups of 10 (permitted by the public health order) for in-person worship.
The organizer of the group set up a service at his private residence following the Northern Health guidelines. Attendance was limited to 10 and worshippers had to wear masks, be fully vaccinated and contact tracing information was collected.
“At this stage in the pandemic, it’s right for communities of faith to speak out and to ask the government to respect our rights,” the ReopenWorship.com website states. “We have all worked together by following the rules and limiting the spread of COVID-19.”
The group is correct. Punishing all people of faith for the action, or inaction, of some is just not right. Going forward, authorities must be wary of this kind of discriminatory policy in the interest of fairness.