A Manitoba church that was fined for holding Sunday service despite bans on religious gatherings in the province, says it plans to continue church services this weekend because spiritual support should be considered “essential.”
The Church of God Restoration near Steinbach, Manitoba, was given a $5,000 ticket—the maximum allowed under the province’s public health act—after holding an in-person service days after the province had banned all faith-based gatherings amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Senior Pastor Henry Hildebrandt said the church regularly reminded members of the province’s health protocols and requirements, and supplied them with free masks if needed. He questioned why the province banned church services while allowing “liquor, cannabis, department and big box stores” to remain open.
“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 told The Epoch Times, adding that fundamental freedoms are being eroded “at a historically alarming rate.”
Hildebrandt said the church plans to go ahead with an in-person service this coming Sunday and will then assess “one Sunday at a time.”
Earlier this month, Manitoba went into code red restrictions, closing restaurants, bars, gyms, and non-essential retail stores and prohibiting all social gatherings outside of single households. Health authorities have said around 70 percent of the province’s COVID-related deaths occurred in November.
As of mid-day on Nov. 27 there were 15,632 cases of COVID-19 identified in Manitoba, including 266 deaths and 6,487 people who have recovered.
Religious services in many provinces are currently restricted due to increased lockdown measures amid rising restrictions across the country. In Manitoba and B.C., all in-person religious gatherings and worship services have been suspended for the time being, while Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta have set limits on the number of congregants.
The rights of worshipers have been a topic of debate during the pandemic as some religious leaders have argued spiritual support during trying times should be considered essential, while authorities want to keep gatherings to a minimum to avoid virus outbreaks.
In May, U.S. President Donald Trump said places of worship constituted “essential services” and called on governors to allow their reopening. He argued that if services such as liquor stores and abortion clinics were considered essential, churches and other places of worship should be allowed to operate.
On Wednesday, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling blocked New York officials from limiting religious gatherings, a win for Orthodox Jews who had sued over restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.