Victorians are relieved to see lockdown restrictions easing, but while retail and hospitality sectors can open from 2 November, churches and other faith communities remain in the dark about their future.
“From midnight 1 November, metropolitan hospitality venues can host 20 people indoors and regional venues 40,” ACL spokesperson Jasmine Yuen observed. “Yet church communities can not hold an indoor gathering.”
“In today’s daily press conference Premier Andrews justified the disparity by saying hospitality venues were heavily regulated. Allowing up to 40 strangers in a pub but zero members of a church community inside their own building is nonsensical and unjustifiable.
“The longer this trampling of freedom of worship goes on without making the specific epidemiological justifications public, the more it highlights how desperately religious freedom reform is needed.
“The sentiment of faith groups is clear, from a joint petition of 10,000 people of Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Presbyterian, Muslim and Hindu faiths, to 300 pastors and leaders who wrote to the Premier, all urging him to allow them to open. Faith groups provide an essential service for community health and mental wellbeing.
“Indoor church services with COVID-Safe Plans and contact tracing are safer than gatherings in public places. Churches have cooperated with the government for a long time to comply with the various protocols on food, hygiene, child safety, fire safety & emergency management et cetera. There is no reason why they can’t open in a COVID-Safe way just like restaurants and pubs.
“COVID-Safe church opening now is vitally important, particularly when people have been so lonely and isolated.”