EDMONTON, Alberta, April 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Alberta’s United Conservative government has followed a California county and banned singing during live-streamed church services — which are restricted to fewer than 15 people — allegedly to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“Any gatherings with fewer than 15 people must not include activities that could promote disease transmission,” reads a March 24 Alberta government advisory on restrictions on gatherings.
“This includes singing, even at religious gatherings, as infected people can transmit the virus through their saliva or respiratory droplets while singing,” it notes.
“Other activities considered high risk include — but are not limited to — cheering, hand shaking, preparing food, sharing food or beverages, and buffet-style meals.”
The penalty for violating the order is a fine that can range from $1,000 to $100,000 for a first offense and up to $500,000 “for a subsequent offence for more serious violations.”
As the directive is worded, a priest singing the Mass in the presence of a single cameraperson and observing the required social distance would be in violation of the law and subject to fines between $1,000 to $100,000.
According to an individual who spoke to LifeSiteNews but wished to remain anonymous, local churches are continuing to sing during their live-streamed worship services.
“The government has crossed a line in dictating how we are allowed to worship our God,” the individual told LifeSiteNews. “That is not acceptable to many churches. That’s no different than China.”
The churches are observing the required social distancing, the individual added.
Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP government has also set up a complaint line so people concerned that others are breaking health regulations can contact Alberta Health Services health inspectors.
The Alberta directive is similar to the shelter-in-place order issued April 10 by California’s Mendocino County, 100 miles north of San Francisco.
In force until May 10, the order limits events, including those live-streamed, to four individuals, and bans not only singing, but the “use of wind instruments, harmonicas, or other instruments that could spread COVID-19 through projected droplets,” as LifeSiteNews reported last week.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, criticized the order in an essay in The Federalist as “government authority intruding upon the integrity of Christian worship.”
Mendocino County’s order was issued 10 days after media reports that two people had died after evidently becoming infected by the virus during a choir practice in Mount Vernon, Washington.
Sixty members of 121 Skagit Valley Chorale, none of whom had symptoms at the time, met at a church hall that was “roughly the size of a volleyball court” for a practice on March 10, at a time when the state permitted gatherings of up to 250 people, according to a March 29 report in the Los Angeles Times.
Twenty days later, 45 had symptoms of COVID-19, 28 tested positive for the virus, three had been hospitalized, and two had died.
At the practice, a greeter offered members hand sanitizer at the door, the singers did not hug or shake hands, and they maintained distance from each other during the two-and-a-half-hour event.
“Everybody came with their own sheet music and avoided direct physical contact. Some members helped set up or remove folding chairs. A few helped themselves to mandarins that had been put out on a table in back,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
The members, a majority of whom are seniors, at one point “broke into two groups, each standing around separate pianos to sing.”
Health authorities concluded in the aftermath that the virus had been transmitted through the air.
While it’s not clear if the Washington tragedy prompted Mendocino county’s order, Tyler O’Neill of PJ Media argues the directive is on its face “ridiculous.”
The order would “ban one solitary soloist from singing ‘Mary had a little lamb,’ but it would allow an expectorating preacher to spew the same supposedly coronavirus-laden ‘droplets’ in the midst of a sermon in the same sanctuary,” O’Neill pointed out.
“It would prevent a child from playing her harmonica while allowing a spit-laced oration.”
As for Alberta’s order, John Carpay, president of the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, said the UCP government has to back it up with evidence.
“The onus is on the Alberta Government to explain why singing while six feet apart is somehow more dangerous than speaking while six feet apart. After all, our Prime Minister has stated that some people speak moistly,” he told LifeSiteNews in an email.
“If there is solid evidence to support the notion that singing is more likely to project dangerous matter through six feet of air than speaking, then the government could potentially succeed in enforcing this prohibition on singing in church,” added Carpay.
“When governments violate our Charter freedoms to move, travel, associate, assemble and worship, governments are required by the Charter to curtail our freedoms as little as possible, only to the extent necessary to achieve a goal,” he said.
LifeSiteNews contacted the communications director for Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, for a comment but did not hear back by deadline.
According to Alberta’s latest data, there are 4,850 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — 3,366 in Calgary and 486 in Edmonton — and 80 deaths in the province, which has a population of just over four million. There are 1,800 reported recovered cases.
The Edmonton Journal reported Tuesday that 472 health care workers in Alberta — including 22 doctors — are known to have contracted COVID-19 since the outbreak began, with the majority in the Calgary area.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) reported April 23, 2020 that between August 25, 2019 and April 18, 2020, 1,532 people were hospitalized with the seasonal flu, and 39 died of the flu in hospital. These figures are only for cases handled by AHS and exclude those handled by the First Nation and Inuit Health Branch, reports the AHS website.
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This article has been updated.