Dear Hon Dr. Irvin McIntyre;
While recognizing the efforts of the Ministry Of Health in stemming and managing the spread of COVID-19, I do want to express the concern of many of our citizens to what appears to be the curtailing of religious freedom and worship when compared to other human activities permitted at this time.
I note the SRO 26 of 2021 issued on 23 August 2021 wherein religious worship, including funerals and weddings, was limited to 10 people. I noted with much concern that a pronouncement from Cabinet read by the Minister of National Security on 4th September 2021, amended the SRO 26 to allow supermarkets and drugs stores to be opened from 6:00 am to 1:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays; yet religious worship on these days is still curtailed to 10 persons in any venue.
Are the protocols under the SROs promulgated by Cabinet an effort to label religious worship as an inessential human activity or practice? Is the worshiping community being asked to accept that supermarkets can open on Saturdays and Sundays from 6:00 am to 1:00 pm, the days of normal worship, but we are to be denied religious worship except online listening unless we are less than 10 persons?
Is the Roman Catholic community being asked to accept that the Eucharist is inessential as a sacrament? Is there a suggestion by the Ministry of Health or Cabinet that church authorities and the worshiping community are less able to manage the prescribed protocols including social distancing of 30 sqft per person? We certainly are not prepared to continue to accept that, by comparison with the management of protocols at supermarkets, the worshiping community is less able to manage social distancing of 30 sqft.
There are some churches for which the density on normal Sundays is much less – much more than 30 sqft per person is normally obtained.
What are 10 persons in the Cathedral chapel, the Fatima Church in Newton, or the Methodist church, the Seven Day Adventist church in Roseau or Marigot, or the Peoples Pentecostal church in Goodwill? Why are funerals and weddings limited to ten persons at church? Why are the churches denied the 30 sqft per person yardstick?
Equate that to the density requirement for public transport – 3 persons per row on an omnibus – the designed allowance!
The previous SROs made allowances for religious worship but the last two did not. What are the evidence-based reasons for the change? What crime has the worshiping community been guilty of? Has there been a flagrant disregard by the worshiping community to previous protocols and requirements? Have there been major outbreaks traced to the worshipping community from Sunday or Saturday mass or services?
This is the second weekend of the SRO 26 of 2021 issued on 23rd August 2021. I am reliably informed that leaders and representatives of the religious community have made representation and a few appeals to the government on this matter and there was a meeting as recently as Friday 3rd September 2021 to discuss the matter. I am also told that they were sent back to make further presentations to the government for progressive relaxation of the restrictions. This is against a significant relaxation for petrol stations, supermarkets, and drug stores during the very time slots that the worship community would normally gather in a responsible way, cognizant of the established protocol as was obtained before.
It is my hope, and that of many in the worshiping community in the Commonwealth of Dominica, that we will not be treated differently from any other sector or interest group in the State and that the COVID-19 pandemic will not be used, or continue to be perceived to be used, as an excuse or means to curtail religious freedom or worship.
As Parliamentary Representative of the Roseau Valley where we both worship, and as Minister of Health, you probably have these concerns too and may have asked these questions privately and officially to your Cabinet and Ministry of Health technical staff. It is therefore the expectation of the worshiping community in the Commonwealth of Dominica that some significant non-discriminatory amendment will be made to SRO 26 of 2021 that will allow us greater freedom of worship alongside the shared responsibility in participating in the effort at curtailing the impact of COVID-19 on our livelihoods, including our spiritual, social and economic wellbeing. It is my hope that you will act in such a way.
Sincerely, Tony Le Blanc, Mary Magdalene Roman Catholic Chapel, Trafalgar.