(Please read the following news report and comment on how you think this conundrum should be handled.)
British police interfered with a baptism service held in England due to the religious event having more people in attendance than allowed by recently implemented lockdown restrictions.
The London-based congregation The Angel Church held a baptism ceremony on Sunday, led by 28-year-old Senior Pastor Regan King, which 30 people tried to attend.
Once alerted to the event, police officers stood at the entrance of the church and prevented people from entering, though they allowed 15 people to remain indoors, according to Sky News.
Police spoke with King about the event, with the pastor reportedly agreeing to stop the indoor service and instead switch to a socially-distanced, outdoor gathering.
In a statement given to Sky, an unnamed police spokesperson explained that the officers who talked with King explained that “due to COVID-19, restrictions are in place preventing gatherings and that financial penalties can be applied if they are breached.”
“The pastor agreed not to proceed with the baptism or the in-person indoor service,” continued the spokesperson. “A brief socially-distanced outdoor gathering was held instead which was agreed to by officers as a sensible compromise in the circumstances.”
For his part, King has been a staunch critic of the national lockdown, arguing in a Facebook post that he believes “it was wrong for churches to be deemed non-essential and to be forced into lockdown.”
“If it is wrong for the government to do this, then how is it right for us to comply?” he wrote. “How can I go to countries where it is illegal to practice faith as a Christian in a Biblical way and encourage illegal churches to endure (which I have done) and come back and not do the same?”
On Oct. 31, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that there would be a second national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, beginning Nov. 5 and ending Dec. 2.
“We should remember we are not alone in what we’re going through. Our friends in Belgium, France and Germany have had to take very similar action,” said Johnson at the time.
“We are not going back to the full-scale lockdown of March and April. It is less prohibitive and less restrictive, but from Thursday the basic message is the same: Stay at home.”
The lockdown order required people to remain at home with the exception of necessary trips like work that cannot be done online, medical appointments, or shopping for groceries.
Businesses labeled nonessential and entertainment venues were ordered to be closed, with restaurants only being allowed to provide take-out and delivery services to customers.
Houses of worship were among the entities required to close, with exemptions given for assorted activities like private prayer, funerals, and formal childcare.
News of the second lockdown was criticized by many faith leaders, who argued that their worship services take sufficient precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Last week, a group of more than 120 religious leaders filed legal action against the government over the lockdown, being represented by The Christian Legal Centre.
“We have been left with no alternative but to pursue a judicial review on this crucial issue and at this significant moment for the freedom to worship in church in this country,” stated Pastor Ade Omooba, who is part of the legal challenge.
“We call on the government to recognize the vital importance of church ministry and the principle of church autonomy from the state.”