The city of Vernon, B.C. is expected to write to the provincial government urging that the government declare places of worship including churches and synagogues as an essential service.
Councillor Scott Anderson delivered the motion before the city council on Monday, and received near-unanimous support, with the exceptions of members Brian Quiring and Mayor Victor Cumming.
Castanet reports that Anderson, who said he personally does not attend church, brought the motion to the council “because I was requested to by a representative of the Canadian Reform Church of Vernon, a house of worship with which I had no previous connection and anticipate no future connection."
“I subsequently spoke with other faith leaders. I am bringing the motion forward as a representative of the public, including some members of the faith community, because their request to deem houses of worship as 'essential services' was, to my mind, so reasonable,” he said.
Quiring disagreed, calling the proposal “nuts.”
“You think you’re going to be able to control social distancing in a church? Not a chance. You’re meeting with people you haven’t seen in a long time and you will not social distance. People are going to have their kids there, it’s going to be mayhem,” said Quiring, according to the Vernon Morning Star.
His views were echoed by the mayor, but other members of the city council overruled the two objections and passed the motion to support places of worship as an essential service. Since March 2020, houses of worship have been ordered closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing measures enacted by the province.
Anderson believes that it makes sense for churches and other places of worship to be given the same treatment as “pubs and restaurants and cannabis stores and big box stores and airplanes and small junk food removal companies,” which are exempt from the province’s lockdown regulations, and pointed out the role places of worship play in society.
“Houses of worship serve a very real material function in the community. Houses of worship distribute food, help maintain mental health, and carry out much needed community outreach. Just to name one among many examples across this country, Sikh temples cook on the spot and serve thousands of meals to hungry people, some temples serving food every day,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that with proper protocols in place, churches and other religious buildings would not operate exactly as they did before the pandemic, but stressed that they be allowed to open.