The Price of Worship during COVID 19

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The price of worship during COVID: Ontario church is fined and an Alberta pastor sits in prison.

In Canada, Charter freedoms are not absolute — the government can restrict them, but they must justify them, one Ontario lawyer says.

The authority of God, and the necessity of worship during a time of great tribulation supersedes the imposition of measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, argue a number of churches across Canada that are facing legal action for holding services in violation of lockdown rules against indoor gathering.

The latest, Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario, west of Toronto, has been ordered to pay $38,000 in fines and $45,000 in legal costs for holding services in defiance of Ontario’s limit on 10 people per indoor gathering, and of a court injunction ordering them to follow the rules.

“Our offence is that we believe that God is our Supreme Authority, above and beyond all parliaments and courts,” wrote Pastor Jacob Reaume in a blog post about the fines. “Christians, throughout history, have often found themselves conflicted when earthly rulers order them to do what God forbids or forbids them from doing what God commands. In such instances, we must obey God over government.”

That church isn’t the only one. In one high profile case, Pastor James Coates, who ministers to GraceLife Church in Parkland County, just outside of Edmonton, has been behind bars since Feb. 16. He has refused to abide by bail conditions that would see him released, which include not attending or holding services.

The Edmonton Interfaith Centre, meanwhile, has argued in a letter to the community that religious citizens should not be following public health orders “begrudgingly and minimally, but willingly and with an overabundance of care.”

“This may require certain sacrifices of self and of freedom, but such is the path of love,” the letter says.

It is signed by several Muslim leaders, as well as representatives from Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, United and Unitarian Christian churches.

As for Reaume’s church in Waterloo, the fines now total $83,000 for holding services. While the case dates back to services held in December, on Jan. 22, an Ontario court was unequivocal with an injunction: No more than 10 people were allowed to worship.

The church went ahead, two days later, holding a service with more than 200 participants. “Risking reputation and financial viability to offer eternal hope and warm Christian fellowship to a world in despair is an act of love that I am certain Jesus smiles on,” Reaume wrote.

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