Winnipeg Springs Church Offers Members ‘Religious Exemptions’ For COVID-19 Vaccination
Pastors at an evangelical church in Winnipeg have told their congregation they will provide documents providing “religious exemptions” to those who wish to avoid mandatory COVID-19 vaccines.
“With the vaccination mandate deadlines fast approaching, as a church we have made the decision to grant religious exemptions to our participants if they think it can help them in their jobs,” said wrote Springs Church pastors Leon and Sally Fontaine in an email to the church. members earlier this week.
The email invites members to email for more information and ties the offer of exemptions to a human rights issue.
“We continue to believe that the overbreadth of our government with our freedoms will be questioned and ended,” the pastors wrote.
Many employers, including the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg, have vaccine requirements in place for some employees.
At a press conference on Friday, City of Winnipeg Executive Director Michael Jack said the city had so far not granted any exemptions to its vaccination or testing requirements for some frontline workers , but was considering exemption requests.
Exemptions for city employees on religious grounds are unlikely, however – Jack said the city’s legal team has been unable to identify a religion that would make a person ineligible for vaccination.
The Province of Manitoba is unequivocal about the exemptions for its employees.
“Under current public health orders, there is no exemption for religious reasons for those eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination. At this time, public health only allows a medical exemption in very specific circumstances, ”wrote a spokesperson for Manitoba Health.
Pastors at Springs Church recognize that an exemption may not have much of an influence on an employer.
“We want to remind you that these religious exemptions may not apply to all employee situations or be accepted by all employers,” their email said.
Springs Church did not respond to interview requests on Friday.
Past conflict on health orders
The church has come under scrutiny throughout the pandemic for its stance on health ordinances.
The church – which also operates a private school with two locations – was accused earlier this year of violating public health orders related to COVID-19, after photos of a graduation ceremony were released in church with a group of people not wearing masks.
The church also filed an unsuccessful court application late last year for a temporary suspension of the provincial public health ordinance that banned in-person religious gatherings at that time.
At this point, Springs Church and two of its pastors had been fined more than $ 32,000 for authorizing services in violation of public health order.
During this school year, schools linked to Springs Church faced outbreaks of COVID-19.
According to the most recent statistics of the province, Springs Christian Academy on Lagimodière has 25 cases (five staff, 20 non-staff) and its Youville campus has 10 (one staff and nine non-staff).
The church’s recent offer of “religious exemptions” would appear to be out of step with other religious organizations, including the Roman Catholic Church. In September, Pope Francis said he did not understand why people refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Mennonite Church of Canada has said it will not offer exemptions.
“The command to love God and to love our neighbor is essential. Vaccinations allow us to live this command”, said a statement from church officials to members earlier this month.
If City of Winnipeg employees wish to request an exemption, a spokesperson said a process is in place.
This involves a request and information to explain the request “on the basis of religion or belief, or religious belief, religious association or religious activity contemplated by the Human Rights Code of Canada. Manitoba, ”wrote David Driedger, city director of corporate communications.
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission has looked at some of these issues.
“Not all religious or political needs should be taken into account in areas protected by the code”, including employment, “especially when it is demonstrated that serious risks to public health and safety exist, like during a pandemic “, says Manitoba Commission COVID-19 Vaccination Fact Sheet.
CBC News has reached out to a number of public and private organizations for their policy on religious exemptions.
Manitoba Hydro says its workers must be fully immunized by November 30 or undergo regular testing.
“Adjustments to this… will be dealt with through our normal processes,” based on existing laws, health guidelines and the Human Rights Code, wrote Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen. .
Large employers give employees choice
The insurance and financial services company Canada Life does not have a specific policy on religious exemptions, but has established working standards.
Any employee who is not vaccinated – for whatever reason – and needs to be in the office must get a negative rapid test result before entering, wrote Kim Forgetta, director of communications for Canada Life.
Red River College Polytechnic has a comprehensive form for staff and students who wish to rely on religious beliefs for immunization exemption.
The college “has a legal obligation to accommodate people” who request exemptions for medical reasons or based on religion or belief, wrote Emily Doer, spokesperson for RRC Polytech.
These will be considered on an individual basis, she wrote. The application form was assembled through consultations with human rights commissions across Canada and case law.
Due to privacy and confidentiality, the school was unable to say how many people had applied for a religious exemption, but Doer told CBC News the number is very low.