A Canadian church was prevented from holding a drive-in church service without interruption Sunday when police blocked cars from entering the parking lot and began issuing fines to anyone who did not leave.
Under Manitoba’s current public health restrictions for Covid-19, houses of worship are prohibited from gathering in-person. Gatherings of more than five individuals “at any indoor or outdoor public place” are also banned.
The congregation, Church of God near Steinbach, Manitoba, had scheduled a drive-in service to allow for social distancing, despite a provincial ban on such services.
“This worship service will be held in protest of these tyrannical edicts,” the church said on its Facebook page Saturday.
But on Sunday, multiple vehicles with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived at the church service, blocking the entrance. When church members and supporters parked on the street to participate in the service, police warned them they could be fined $1,296 Canadian, which is about $1,000 U.S., according to the Winnipeg Free Press. Most cars left.
“This is going to go down in the history books of the RCMP being on the wrong side of the law,” said church supporter Patrick Allard.
Another church supporter, Todd Dube, said, “You can go back into Winnipeg and go to Walmart, and there’ll be 800 cars in the parking lot, just like there is in Costco, but we can’t go in this parking lot because it’s deadly? What if I put a Walmart sign on that building, would that make it better?”
Church of God minister Tobias Tissen said it was an issue of religious liberty.
“Really, these police officers that are here blocking our entrance, they’re not blocking us, they are blocking God … by laying fines upon us, handing out tickets – mister officers, do you realize you are doing that to God?” Tissen said, according to the Free Press.
Police, though, defended their actions.
“Violating public health orders is an offence,” Sgt. Paul Manaigre of the RCMP told the CBC in an email. “These orders are in place for everyone's safety. All citizens of Manitoba are directed not to congregate, and those directions supersede all other acts at this time. Please stay safe and stay home.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Valery Yurasov
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.