A Canadian province is seeking a court injunction against three congregations that have reportedly been meeting despite a ban on in-person worship services.
British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry filed the complaint against the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church of Abbotsford, and Riverside Calvary Chapel of Langley.
The injunction request was filed last week, with it being scheduled to be argued before the British Columbia Supreme Court on Friday, according to CBC News.
As part of its ongoing lockdowns in response to COVID-19, British Columbia has enacted restrictions on various in-person gatherings, including a ban on in-person worship services.
“In-person religious gatherings and worship services of any size are prohibited,” reads the government’s website. “You must not attend a service at a church, synagogue, mosque, gudwara, temple or other place of worship.”
The provincial did allow for worship services performed via Zoom or Skype, and allowed sanctuaries to be open “for individual activities such as guidance from spiritual leaders, contemplation or personal prayer.”
“Religious leaders may attend the home of a member of their religious community to provide religious services to the occupant,” added the government.
Last month, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms filed a lawsuit against the British Columbia orders, arguing that the faith communities that meet are following public health guidelines.
“The faith communities described in filing the petition have gone to extraordinary lengths to comply with health guidelines, including limiting attendance to no more than 50 persons, pre-registering attendees, rearranging seating to ensure physical distancing, providing hand sanitizer and masks, and enhancing cleaning and sanitizing procedures,” stated the Centre in January.
“Some members cannot access online services. To many in these faith communities, gathering in-person is essential to their spiritual and emotional well-being.”
In a petition filed in response to churches' litigation, British Columbia acknowledged that its restrictions limited religious freedom, but added that such freedoms “are not absolute.”
“Protection of the vulnerable from death or severe illness and protection of the health-care system from being swamped by an out-of-control pandemic is also clearly of constitutional importance,” stated the petition, as reported by CBC.
Riverside Calvary Chapel, one of the three churches that Henry is seeking an injunction against, has been fined multiple times for meeting in person, reportedly without face masks.
During one such service, which was livestreamed last month, Riverside Assistant Pastor Randy Dyck focused on applying biblical prophecy in the modern day in his sermon.
“I never imagined that we would see the likes of something like this that we’ve experienced in 2020. I never imagined our world would look like this before the Rapture,” he stated in his message. “But here we are.”