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Pressure is building on NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to end her discriminatory COVID-19 church crackdown.

Over six thousand people have signed a petition launched by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney on May 27.

Presently in NSW fifty people can meet at hospitality venues. But as few as eleven people are prohibited from meeting at a church.

“Churches have cooperated at every stage with the Government’s public health directives during this pandemic,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said.

“We understand that the shutdown was necessary to flatten the curve, but it came at a cost – not only to the economy, but also to the spiritual and mental health of our people.

“They miss gathering for worship and praying in a sacred space. I am at a loss to explain to Catholics in Sydney why our reasonable requests to the government are not being granted. 

“Contrary to what has been said throughout this pandemic, we do not consider church attendance to be non-essential; indeed, nothing is more essential than the practice of our faith,” reads the petition.

“Catholics are not asking for special treatment, we are asking for equal treatment.

“This unequal treatment of religious worship leads us to ask whether the Government is listening to the concerns of Catholics and other people of faith or indifferent to the effect the closure of our churches is having on people during these difficult times.

“The freedom to practice faith is necessary for human flourishing and a great contributor to the common good.” 

FamilyVoice Australia National Director Peter Downie said, “Governments have been heavy-handed and unjust in their treatment of churches during the COVID-19 crisis.”

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A legal group has filed a lawsuit against the state of Oregon over a COVID-19 order which prohibits meetings at churches with 26 attendees.

The Alliance Defending Freedom says that it is also looking at putting a motion to temporarily restrain enforcement of the order pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Under the order, pastors can be penalised with a fine of over $1,000 and jailed for up to a month.

The ADF says this is a double standard as the same number of people and more can eat in a restaurant without penalty.

“While responding to crises can be difficult, this case is not,” said ADF spokesman Caleb Dalton.

“There is no legitimate justification for banning church services of 26 or more—with responsible social distancing and health and safety protocols—while allowing malls, gyms, restaurants, and retail establishments to fill to social-distancing capacity.”

The church plans to adopt a number of health and safety measures when it re-opens to mitigate risk of the spread of the coronavirus.

“Singling out churches for special punishment while allowing others to have greater freedom not only makes no logical sense, it’s clearly unconstitutional, just as others have warned the governor,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker.

“Gov. Brown has had plenty of opportunity to correct the obvious constitutional problem with issuing a church-specific ban and has chosen not to.

“We support authorities’ efforts to prioritize the public’s health and safety, but people of faith should be free to assemble if other groups are free to assemble.”

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Last week the world lost one of its greatest Christian apologists, Ravi Zacharias. 

Born in India, he died in the US aged 74 after a short battle with cancer – knowing that he would be going to join his Lord.

Ravi grew up in an Anglican family, but rebelled as a teenager. He became very depressed – to the point of attempting suicide. 

But afterwards his life turned upside down. When he was recovering in hospital, a young Christian man explained the gospel to him. He decided to follow Jesus.

Ravi moved to Canada and later the US. He felt God calling him to share his faith with others – in all parts of society, but especially in academic and intellectual circles that tend to embrace atheism and mock Christianity.

Like the Apostle Paul, who argued for the Christian faith with philosophers and religious leaders in Athens and elsewhere, Ravi debated with university dons and students about the fundamental questions of life. They had no answers, but God did.

Ravi Zacharias is widely known for his lectures and more than 30 books. But one part of his resumé particularly interested me. He was one of the Christian leaders from across the world – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – who came together in New York in November 2009 to sign what was called the Manhattan Declaration.

This important document affirms key principles that FamilyVoice stands for. It says (in part):

In this declaration we affirm: 

1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 

2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 

3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right – and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation – to speak and act in defense of these truths.

We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.

And I say, “Amen!”

Peter Downie - National Director, FamilyVoice Australia


President Trump has announced a new policy that treats churches as “essential” during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now – for this weekend,” Trump said on Friday.

“If they don't do it, I will override the governors.”

Trump made the announcement, which will see churches treated as essential in new Centers for Disease Control guidance, at a briefing at the White House.

“In America, we need more prayer not less,” said Trump.

“Some governors have deemed the liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship.

“It's not right. So I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”

Last month Attorney General William Barr warned states that they should not place an unfair burden on churches.

“The United States Department of Justice will continue to ensure that religious freedom remains protected if any state or local government, in their response to COVID-19, singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions,” said Barr.

“Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers.

“Government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity,” Barr added.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group which has filed a number of actions on behalf of churches targeted by state coronavirus orders, has called for churches to reopen commensurate with what is allowed for businesses and other groups.

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A lawsuit has been filed against the Governor of Nevada for permitting restaurants and stores to operate at 50% capacity while only allowing churches to gather with less than 10 people.

Alliance Defending Freedom has commenced the action on behalf of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley.  The suit also seeks an immediate stop to the order while the lawsuit is finalised.

“If groups of people can meet, then the state can’t play favorites,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker.

“The government can certainly prioritize public health and safety, but it can’t move businesses and non-religious activities to the front of the line for reopening and push churches to the back.

Ryan said that the move is not constitutional and “that’s why we filed suit.”

According to ADF, “the governor has refused to allow churches and other places of worship to open their doors to 10 or more people under any circumstance.”

The church wants to reopen on May 31 with less than 50% of it’s building capacity.

It has implemented social distancing and health and safety protocols, but risks the church with criminal and civil penalties if the Governor’s order is not overturned.

“The governor’s refusal to allow churches to reopen commensurate with what is allowed for businesses and other groups is baseless,” according to ADF Senior Counsel Jeremiah Galus.

“The Constitution doesn’t allow the governor to make arbitrary decisions as to who can meet and who can’t,” he added.