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Limited exemptions granted to some B.C. religious groups for in-person worship

Click to play video: 'More religious exemptions issued in B.C. amid possible health violations' More religious exemptions issued in B.C. amid possible health violations
More exemptions are being granted to B.C.'s faith communities as three Fraser Valley churches challenge provincial public health orders banning in-person services and as Julia Foy reports, parishioners at one of those churches appear to be skirting some of the health restrictions – Feb 27, 2021

The B.C. government has implemented some limited exceptions to a blanket ban on in-person worship imposed in November in an effort to curb COVID-19 transmission.

The lawyer for a trio of Fraser Valley churches battling the province in court over the ban told Global News they’ve now been given the green light to meet for worship — so long as they do it outdoors, and implement multiple protocols.

Read more: Group takes B.C. government to court over COVID-19 ban on in-person church services

“The churches are no longer prohibited completely from in-person worship services, but certain conditions are being imposed,” lawyer Paul Jaffe, who represents the Riverside Calvary Chapel, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack, among multiple other clients in the legal challenge.

Click to play video: 'Small win for 3 B.C. churches accused of violating public health orders' Small win for 3 B.C. churches accused of violating public health orders
Small win for 3 B.C. churches accused of violating public health orders – Feb 26, 2021

“We’re grateful that Dr. Henry has finally taken a look at the circumstances of my clients.”

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Restrictions include a maximum of 25 congregants, a ban on singing or chanting and a ban on passing collection plates or ceremonial objects, a one-hour time limit and mandatory masks. They’re also not allowed to socialize before or after the service.

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Growing frustration over church closures in B.C – Feb 17, 2021

It comes after the province unsuccessfully sought an injunction giving police more powers to shut down services that were flouting the health order. Jaffe and his clients’ claims that the ban violates their charter rights are set to be tested in court in March.

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The churches are not the only ones to receive an exemption. The Ministry of Health confirms it has also granted exceptions to Orthodox Jewish groups who are prohibited by their faith from using electronic devices.

Read more: B.C. judge dismisses province’s application for injunction to stop in-person church services

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“We recognize some faiths can not meet virtually,” a ministry spokesperson said in an email. “In this case, the synagogue observes traditional Jewish law which prohibits the use of electronic devices, including computers, on the Sabbath and on Purim. In-person services were the only option.”

The services may go ahead, provided they follow restrictions, including a cap of 25 participants, mandatory mask-wearing, physical distancing and a one-hour limit on the proceedings.

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