At this point, you’ve heard it all before: Some church, high on its own self-righteousness, declares itself essential and refuses to shut its doors, insisting that in-person worship is the only kind the Lord will accept and public health be damned.
Governing bodies in Canada have been issuing fines, but it’s not helping. The churches just proclaim their intention to fight back, insisting that any restrictions on how, when, and where they worship constitutes a violation of their rights and freedoms.
Consider the case of Harvest Church in Kelowna, British Columbia. Its pastor, Art Lucier, has refused to restrict the church’s in-person services. After three visits from the authorities, he’s not shy about stating that he plans to ignore whatever orders, directives, and fines his church racks up. After all, he argues, his church is no different from a support group:
We deal with addicts and homeless people and we feel it’s imperative to be there for the most vulnerable in this time of COVID. Suicide is up, fear is up, so we would like to continue to be there for them.
Lucier assumes, with classic Christian hubris, that no other services exist to help people in need. He is apparently unable to differentiate between his desire to keep his ministry going and actual knowledge about community safety in a pandemic.
It’s also a safe bet his concern doesn’t extend beyond the members of his congregation in any case, which is why public health organizations aren’t leaving these choices up to individual churches. They have to proceed with everybody’s health in mind.
The church’s first visit from law enforcement took place in December, at which time the police force issued a warning to ensure the congregation’s leaders were aware of the health order. The second visit saw the church penalized with a fine of $2,300.
It wasn’t enough. The church continued to meet, earning them a second visit from the police and an additional $2,300 fine.
Lucier has pledged to continue fighting the fine.
According to the Kelowna RCMP, they’re trying not to be overly punitive with churches and other groups that fall afoul of public health orders, reports the CBC:
Kelowna RCMP Supt. Kara Triance said on Tuesday a layered approach is being taken to ensure compliance with public health orders, which involves educating people and understanding the obstacles to their compliance before issuing violation tickets.
But when the only obstacle to compliance is the persistent belief that the existence of rules constitutes a violation of religious freedom, what other option is left?
Elsewhere in British Columbia, Councillor Kim Richter of Langley, a township experiencing its own struggles with intransigent houses of worship, has put forward a simple and sensible suggestion: Take away their tax breaks. Organizations that endanger public health shouldn’t be supported by public funds.
She put forward a motion to that effect earlier this month, and it appears to have some support from her fellows. The text is being vetted for legal correctness, but it could return to council for a vote as early as next week.
That’s raising the ire of people within the affected communities, who are calling her intolerant and weaponizing congregants’ individual status as taxpayers to argue that they should be permitted to do whatever they like without penalty, as in this letter to the Aldergrove Star:
Anger only creates walls and hinders mutual understanding, but as an elected official Coun. Richter should build bridges and reach out to her constituents who do, in fact, pay taxes. As well she knows, we all pay taxes to subsidize programs we might not personally approve of, but we don’t get angry… Religious “organizations” that are currently open love their neighbour instead of harbouring anger against those who hold a different opinion from them.
But this isn’t about a difference of opinion… or, if it is, it’s one where churches want their ignorance to carry as much weight as public health officials’ scientific knowledge. Richter didn’t put forth this motion because she disapproves of churches; she did it because the churches are breaking the law in a way that puts the community at risk.
If the church wants to remain a vector for community spread, it’s high time they chipped in some tax dollars to deal with the consequences.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Richard for the link)