Dear Dan: Ten thousand sign petition for fair treatment of people of faith

An online petition endorsed by major Christian organisations in Victoria is asking the State government for people of faith and places of worship to be treated equitably in the  COVID re-opening roadmap.

At the weekend Philip Mercer the Moderator (leader) of the Victorian Presbyterians asked all their followers to sign the petition, after their State Assembly endorsed its aims. The Pressies join the Greek Orthodox, several Catholic organisations including the Knights of the Southern Cross and Family Voice Australia in backing the “Equality For faith” initiative.

The Hindu Council of Australia and the Islamic Council of Victoria have joined among other non-Christian religious groups.

“We are particularly concerned about the inequitable treatment of people of faith under ‘Step 3’ of your ‘Roadmap’,” the petition States. “For example, ‘Step 3’ permits cafes and restaurants to seat up to 20 people indoors and 50 people outdoors yet restricts religious communities to outdoor gatherings of only 10 people and indoor private worship to household bubbles.

“There is no logical reason for this discrepancy. People of faith are able to attend a service in a place of worship whilst wearing a face mask; physical distancing is not a challenge in what are often very large venues; services are time-limited and rigorous infection-control measures are able to be implemented. A place of worship can and should be accessible in a COVID-safe way.”

This petition joins one signed by 295 leaders of evangelical churches reported by Eternity last week. Those pastors called for  church gatherings to be declared  an essential service.

Both petitions call for churches to run with social distancing and a COVIDsafe plan.

“Premier Andrews, we, people of Victoria’s faith community, request that you adjust the ‘Roadmap for Reopening’ in a way that secures the equitable treatment of religious communities and grants us the opportunity to practise our faith in a COVID-safe manner,” is the plea that concludes  the Equality for Faith Petition.

“Equity for faith is a grassroots peoples movement that originated with a group of young Catholics who were concerned with the inequity in the roadmap as proposed by this government,” Ian Smith, executive officer of the Victorian Council of Churches (VCC) tells Eternity. “Economics rather than people’s welfare seemed to be the driving force in government decisions that clearly sidelined faith as an ’extra’ rather than as a core part of societal infrastructure. ”

Smith explains that VCC’s role has been in the dissemination of the information amongst the member churches of VCC and the wider churches in Victoria. He adds “VCC also helped the leaders of Equity for Faith to engage with the Faith Communities Council of Victoria as it became obvious that all peoples of faith and not just Christians were being overlooked in the roadmap.”