Editorial: Fairness counts

By 
  • May 28, 2020

As the world begins to stir from its pandemic hibernation, governments face the important question of how to accommodate houses of worship. At least, we hope they realize the question is important.

But recent actions in Alberta leave us uneasy.

For Catholics, and worshippers of other faiths, celebrating in community is a vital component of faithful witness and therefore central to their lives. It has been sacrificed during the pandemic to serve a greater good. To have that sacrifice ignored as governments gradually re-open society would be a slap in the face.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the case in Alberta. The province has said restaurants, bars and churches can soon start to re-open. Some restrictions will remain to minimize the risk to public health, which makes sense. Unsettling, though, is that rules for church-goers who assemble for communion will be far more restrictive than those for restaurant patrons who gather for food and beer.

As one of the first in Canada, Alberta’s re-opening plan will be scrutinized by other provincial leaders. So what happens there matters. Legislating a bias that favours commerce over prayer is a bad precedent. But that seems to be happening.

Alberta restaurants and bars can now operate at 50 per cent capacity. So, for example, a place that normally seats 200 patrons can now serve 100 at one time.

Churches, however, are limited to either just one-third of normal capacity or, for larger churches, there is a hard cap of 50 people, who must register to enter the church.

The inequity is distressing. Most churches have a lot more floor space than restaurants or bars. People can spread out more safely in long pews than at small restaurant tables. Also, churches draw crowds only a few hours a week, compared to eateries that are open seven days a week. And people in pews are not interacting with servers or receiving food prepared by several hands in nearby kitchens.

The regulations make the sensible suggestion that church-goers be seated at least two metres apart unless they come from the same household. But not so for patrons of restaurants and bars. Unrelated parties can share the same lunch counter or dinner table. So people who prayed apart at church and were denied communion are free after the final blessing to cross the street and rub elbows at Sunday brunch.

No one is suggesting that churches start packing pews right away. But if safety concerns dictate reasonable safety measures for churches, the same measures should be imposed in every public space where people congregate for any length of time. It is wrong to impose stricter standards on faith groups.

Praying together is no riskier than eating together, drinking together or, for that matter, sharing an office elevator or manning an assembly line.

By all means, when it is safe to do so, re-open society — but do it fairly.

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