After being fined $5,000 for holding an in-person worship service in violation of Manitoba province’s public health order, a Canadian church was prevented by police from holding a drive-in worship service on Sunday.
The Church of God Steinbach posted a video on its Facebook page showing “lots and lots of police” blocking churchgoers on a snowy day from entering the church’s parking lot for the 9:30 a.m. service. Unable to enter, dozens of cars lined up outside the parking lot and listened to the pastor preach from the outdoor stage through radio broadcast.
“God has given us the right to worship Him together and He wants to see His people united,” Senior Pastor Henry Hildebrandt said from the stage. “It seems like we’re living in a different Canada. It’s very heartbreaking to me.”
The church in rural Manitoba had received a $5,000 ticket last week for conducting a service despite COVID-19-related restrictions. But it said it will still hold a service on Sunday “in protest of these tyrannical edicts.”
In an open letter last week, Hildebrandt argued that while “the Bible teaches Christians to be good citizens and obey the reasonable demands of our government,” it does not “teach blind obedience to the authorities when onerous restrictions are placed on our freedoms.”
“We are not asking for special treatment, just equal treatment,” the pastor wrote, noting that businesses such as liquor stores and Walmart are allowed to remain open. “[I]t is our faith community that is singled out for public criticism, media attention, and visits by the RCMP, Manitoba Public Health and local bylaw enforcement. There must be an allowable expression of faith that is deemed essential while we are allowing the sale of products at establishments that exist solely for the sale of alcohol, coffee, donuts, cannabis, and fast food.”
While grateful for the police, the pastor urged them to resist the enforcement of “draconian and unconstitutional orders.”
Ahead of Sunday’s blocked drive-in worship service, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, indicated that the government would enforce public health restrictions.
“If somebody was undertaking activity that we felt put the health of the public at risk, we could issue a health hazard order that would require an organization to close. There could be continued fines, there could be prosecution under the Public Health Act. So those are just the various options available to enforce things,” he said, according to CBC.
Churchgoers were urged not to engage in any abusive behavior toward the police.
As of Friday, there were 15,632 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba, including 266 deaths and 6,487 recoveries.
Hildebrandt told The Epoch Times, “This principle is not just about in-person services — this is a wholesale attack on faith and the freedom of the church to do its God-called duty.”
He also complained that fundamental freedoms were being eroded “at a historically alarming rate.”
Churches in the United States have also been fighting legal battles to exercise their rights and freedoms to worship.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Catholic diocese and an Orthodox Jewish group last week, temporarily blocking New York’s COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship.
“Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” the high court said in its 5-4 ruling Wednesday. “The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”