As you will be aware, last week we presented a petition to Parliament with 87,000+ signatures, calling on the Government to allow the use of COVID rapid antigen testing as an alternative for unvaccinated kiwis to access workplaces, schools, marae, large gatherings, and places of worship. With our evolving understanding of the waning immunity of the vaccine, the new variants and the need for boosters, we believe testing is an important component for all New Zealanders moving forward. It’s much fairer – and doesn’t divide us.
Our lawyers also wrote to the Government asking for them to reconsider their vaccination mandate, especially as it applies to places of worship (given the upcoming Christmas period and the significant disruption of the ability of churches and mosques to operate – specifically in the ‘red traffic light’ areas).
Their response – received earlier this week, and similar to their resistance to the growing calls for rapid antigen testing in workplaces as an alternative to the “no jab no job” policy – said that no change will be made to the policy.
Yesterday, as part of the next stage of this “Don’t Divide Us” campaign, our legal team have filed an application to the High Court for a Judicial Review on the church vaccine mandate, on behalf of a group of 15 applicants representing 110 Church congregations and 2 Mosques, with over 26,000 congregants. We are asking for a less restrictive, more proportionate policy.
The applicants represent a wide-ranging group, including Orewa Community Church, C3 Churches, Curate Churches, Encounter Churches, Equippers Auckland Trust, New Life Churches, Al Hikmah Trust (Mosques), Connect Church (Paraparaumu), Papatoetoe Community Church, City Impact Churches, Bridges Church (Cambridge), Central Worship Centre Church (Avondale), LifeChurches (Manurewa), St Anthony’s Catholic Church (Whanganui), and Jonny Grant (Anglican Vicar of St Pauls, Symonds St). We had to restrict numbers because of the large workload in getting affidavits from each of these groups.
As a large group of applicants, they say:
- We feel fully the weight of the public health risk posed by the SARs_CoV_2 virus. And it is in view of this risk, that we consider it our social responsibility to promote safe and effective public health measures to combat the pandemic it has created.
- Having said that, we consider that insufficient weight has been given to alternative measures that might better preserve the natural liberties guaranteed to places of worship under both international and domestic law. In sum effect, we don’t oppose vaccines, but we do oppose mandates.
- To this end, we promote Rapid Antigen Testing as an alternative to vaccination for conscientious objectors; particularly in the context of religious and faith-based gatherings.
- If there are less intrusive and rights-violative precautions available, it is the charge of the state to adopt such precautions in preference to more intrusive means
- In addition to Rapid Antigen Testing, we promote the adoption of other appropriate health measures, including such things as spaced seating, mask use when mixing with others (as per the guidance of health officials), and controls over shared food etc.
- Embodied corporate worship is no mere accident of history. Rather, it goes to the very essence of our faith and its due manifestation.
- Vaccine mandates require the segregation of faith communities
- it amounts to the suggestion that faith is not for the unvaccinated.
- such mandates call religious leaders to breach their duties of ministry to the sick and infirm.
- We promote solutions that
- Advances the unity of faith communities
- Advances the health and wellbeing of members
- Welcomes even the unvaccinated to manifest their most deeply held religious convictions
What is being sought is in step with how most of the governments of the western world are presently treating the right to manifest religion.
We will await a hearing date from the court which hopefully will be early in the new year. It is important that this issue is resolved before the new year gets fully underway in February.
You may be rightly asking – why only places of worship? Why not challenge the mandate as it relates to workplaces, sports events (involving especially young people), school teachers etc?
Very good question!
IF we can succeed in the policy being changed to allow the option of rapid antigen testing in the religious gathering setting, we believe that we will have a far better chance of success with a judicial review of those other settings.
That will be the next stage of our campaign. This is a big ‘mountain’ that we are climbing!
We will keep you up to date with developments. We are very grateful to our legal team of Madeleine Flannagan from Hibiscus Coast Legal Chambers and Graeme Edgeler from Blackstone Chambers, and additional expert input from theologian Dr Matthew Flannagan.
Thank you for your support in helping us to unite New Zealand.