A Canadian pastor says he could face up to one year and jail and a $100,000 fine after local police charged him for violating health restrictions by leading his congregation in worship on Easter Sunday.
Jacob Reaume, pastor of Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario, says in a blog post that local police, known as by-law officers, visited his church last Thursday to "hand deliver two new summonses to appear in court." One was for the congregation, while the other was for Reaume.
"Our offence? We worshipped the risen Christ together on Resurrection Sunday," the pastor wrote.
The charges could become costly if not overturned, Reaume wrote. This is the church's third summons and Reaume's sixth.
"Each summons to the church carries a maximum penalty of $10 million," he wrote. "... Each summons to me carries a maximum penalty of $100,000 and one year in jail."
Under local restrictions, churches are limited to 15 percent capacity for in-person gatherings. The church building's capacity is officially listed at 600, although Reaume says it can hold more than that.
The restrictions, he added, are an example of government overreach – especially in light of the restrictions' lengthy duration.
"At one point it was 15 days to flatten the curve," he said. "That was well over a year ago."
Sandy Shantz, mayor of Woolwich Township, told 570 AM that citizens need to "adhere to the public health guidelines and just do our very best" to "get us through the next few months."
"People aren't happy," she said, "they feel that their health is being put at risk by people gathering in groups like this, whether it's a church or any other organization or group that's gathering. It's really putting people at risk. One person can transmit to very many people, and if you're in a group, that just becomes exponential."
The pastor argued that the restrictions don't reflect the situation in the region, where he said 10 people are in local ICUs with COVID-19 in an area with a population of more than 500,000.
"And according to our politicians, that's the reason we must reform our worship of Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords, on the Lord's Day," he wrote.
"... None of our pastors have ever officiated one single COVID funeral," Reaume wrote. "You'd think we would have had at least one COVID funeral, especially with all the people flocking to our church for gatherings deemed 'unsafe' and potential super-spreaders. We've not had one single person in our church die of COVID. We thank God for that. And that's not to say we're immune to COVID. Nor is it to say no one will ever die of it. But it is to say the hysteria being whipped up by governments and media cannot be reconciled with our experience of reality."
Reaume and the church announced in December that they would meet in person if the government again enacted lockdowns.
"While our desire is to work with the Province to care for the health of our community, TBC respectfully advises that it must practice civil disobedience in the event of a government lockdown," they said then.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor and the church.
Photo courtesy: ©Trinity Bible Chapel Facebook
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.