As many as 19 churches in the Fraser Valley have been holding in-person services in defiance of a provincial ban ordered to slow the spread of COVID-19.
As reported in a Dec. 20 church bulletin sent to members of the Free Reformed Church (FRC) of Langley at 20757 80th Avenue, there was a meeting of pastors and elders from churches in the Fraser Valley the previous week, where they discussed the fines that have been levied against several of them.
“There were some 50 pastors and elders of some 19 churches, mainly evangelical churches,” including three Free Reformed Churches, the bulletin reported.
As of that meeting, it was estimated that fines of $2,300 each have been issued to one church in Langley, two to a church in Abbotsford, and eight to four churches in Chilliwack, for defying the Nov. 19 order from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry banning such gatherings in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“These fines will not be paid, but will be challenged through the court system,” the bulletin reported, with the help of the Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) and advice from the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA).
Online, the Calgary-based JCCF describes itself as a “public interest, non-partisan law firm and registered charity” that aims to “defend the constitutional freedoms of Canadians through litigation and education.”
JCCF went to court seeking a interim injunction against Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions, including bans on gatherings and mandatory mask-wearing, but the application was dismissed Monday Dec. 21, with the judge ruling the restrictions can remain in place until a full hearing of the challenge is heard.
JCCF did not respond to a Langley Advance Times request for comment on any pending litigation in B.C.
ARPA has campaigned against rainbow flags and legislation that bans so-called “conversion therapy.”
It’s online mission statement says the “mission of ARPA Canada is to educate, equip, and encourage reformed Christians to political action, and to bring a biblical perspective to our civil authorities.”
Free Reformed Church of Langley pastor Tom Aiken declined to comment further on the bulletin other than saying whoever provided the copy of the bulletin to the Langley Advance Times was “unauthorized” to do so.
Aiken directed requests for comment to church elder John Den Dekker, who also declined.
Langley-based Culture Guard executive director Kari Simpson, who has spoken on behalf of the Riverside Calvary Church in Langley that was fined for hold in-person worship, confirmed the meeting of church elders, and said the legal action referred to in the bulletin was pending.
FRC Langley has been holding in-person services as well, but has not been ticketed.
“Our small size, and therefore our small numbers would appear to be the reason we have had little harassment so far,” the bulletin said.
“We have been advised to lock our doors when the service starts so that there will be no interference in the worship.”
In the bulletin, the pastors and elders of the 19 churches said they were “united in our understanding of our duty is to obey God rather than man, refusing to recognize that the government has authority to suspend worship services in this arbitrary manner through a health order which provides no evidence that there has been any transmission of Covid-19 through the Christian churches and that allows similar venues to remain open.”