Vaccine passports and lockdowns - a compromise works and a lawsuit fails

The sound of the shofar – the ram’s horn – will be heard in the locked up states of NSW and Victoria after the Jewish Community achieved a compromise to allow rabbis to blow the horn for their high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

At the same time an attempt to force the Commonwealth NSW and Victorian governments to remove restrictions on worship, timed for Rosh Hashanah using an injunction in the Federal Court, failed. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, will begin in the evening of Monday, September 6 and end in the evening of Wednesday, September 8 this year.

A group of religious leaders, Jewish and Christian, argued that orders made by the governments discriminated against religion by restricting gatherings.

Tom Eglinton, a pastor at Smithfield Baptist Church in Sydney explained the motives behind the court action. “We have a God-given responsibility to physically gather for corporate worship. and community.” He cites the word ‘ekklesia” as meaning a people meeting in a public place, and Hebrews 10:25  commanding us o gather regularly. “This means the government us to break Christ’s commands to the church.”

The Smithfield church is not a member of the NSW and ACT Baptist Association – and as far as Eternity is aware no large Christian church network supported the litigation.

Justice John Griffiths said the consequence of the court’s intervention could be “dire”, AAP reported. “The argument any of the orders were unreasonable ‘falls far short’ of the standard required, he said, and the constitutional argument put could not be applied to any of the orders challenged.

“The case essentially asked him to engage in a ‘merit review’ of policy choices, Justice Griffiths said.

“‘Those choices require a balance between competing interests … it’s a matter for the executive and not the court to strike that balance.'”

Justice Griffiths ruling is that that Commonwealth and States need to be responsible for which health orders to make during the pandemic.

AFL solicitors who failed to get the injunction responded “The Justice says that opening Houses of Worship may lead to further community transmission, hospitalisation and possibly death for members of the public.

“He says discrimination between public worship and other retail outlets such as buying alcohol is a ‘complex policy choice’ which is not for the courts to decide.”

The lawyer representing Victoria pointed out that a compromise for Rosh Hashanah had already been made.

In Melbourne, rabbis are allowed to intermittently blow the shofar while undertaking their permitted daily exercise, which is no more than two hours per day and no further than 5 kilometres from their home according to the Australian Jewish News.

In Sydney, the exemptions in place will allow rabbis to blow the shofar at specified outdoor public locations in Sydney’s east and north shore. A rabbi will be allowed to blow the shofar for a period of 10 minutes for a maximum period of three hours a day on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

As far as we can tell, there is only one example of a country applying vaccine passports to churches.

This sort of delicate negotiation, step by step, rather than the blanket ruling sought by the plaintiffs is the likely path forward for religious gatherings in the pandemic. Another example was the many negotiations in several states about singing in churches, rules which inevitably have changed several times.

Eternity understands that vaccine passports have already been a focus for religious leaders’ discussions with governments which are ongoing. Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that “Victoria will move from lockdowns to lockouts of the unvaccinated the Financial Review reported. Andrews sees residents who refuse to get the jab shut out of sporting matches, restaurants, travel and cinemas.

As far as we can tell, there is only one example of a country applying vaccine passports to churches. Israel uses a “Green Pass” vaccination certificate on mobile phones that is required to enter some venues such as nightclubs. In August this was applied to houses of worship with more than 50 in attendance. (Some media reports indicate the attendance number is now 100).

Other nations, such as Britain and Canada have specially exempted places of worship from their vaccine passport system.

Italy is an example of a country within the European Unions vaccine passport system: “Proof of vaccination will not be required for people going to Mass in Italy but will be necessary for access to church-run museums, conferences and for wedding receptions and other festivities held in a church hall, the Italian bishops’ conference said” the Catholic News Service reports.

A system to accommodate the objection to compulsory vaccination while promoting safety is a possibility. The European vaccine passport system – which is set up to facilitate free and safe movement provides an example of how to give freedom to the unvaccinated. as it provides for results of Covid testing to be included. So for example movement across a border can require either vaccination or a recent test.

Catholic health workers seeking to avoid mandatory vaccination for hospital staff suggest this vaccine alternative for those opposed according to Dennis Shanahan in The Australian. “For example, health and aged-care agencies could apply additional safeguards and risk mitigation strategies around those staff with conscientious ­objections, such as regular rapid antigen testing, which would ­respect the importance of ­conscience while ensuring a safe environment for both staff and patients, particularly the ­vulnerable.”

At this stage, neither extreme outcome being debated – either no vaccine passports at all or requiring them for church attendance, appear to be likely outcomes.