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‘State can’t dictate to the church’

PM faces pushback from Christian Council on new restriction

Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) President Bishop Delton Fernander said yesterday the state cannot dictate to the church and the religious grouping intends to “engage” with the government to have the one-hour restriction imposed on religious services removed. 

“…I thought we dealt with this the last time the orders came out, so we will have to deal with it again,” Fernander said.

“The state cannot dictate to the church. So, we will engage again. What was done the first time was that portion was taken out. Here we go again. It’s added in again. So, we will have conversations to see how we can correct this as we have done in the past.”

Asked what the rationale could be for the restriction, Fernander said, “It cannot be any rationale if it’s only for the church.

“If there is some kind of medical rationale, it must be so that I can’t spend an hour in the bank, I can’t spend an hour in the food store, I can’t spend an hour in my workplace. 

“But a place of worship is the only place COVID lives for an hour? I think it has always been seen as something that is a stretch towards the church. So, we are going to have that conversation again.”

On Friday, after days of rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Minister of Health Renward Wells announced several new restrictions in an effort to combat the surge. 

Under the new emergency order, which took effect yesterday, religious services are to be limited to one hour, and attendance is confined to 33 percent of the facility’s capacity.

Funeral and cremation services are no longer permitted indoors. Funerals are now confined to gravesides only, and repasts are prohibited.

A maximum of 30 people are allowed at funerals and weddings. Indoor weddings are still permitted.

The measures affect residents in New Providence and Grand Bahama.

“We are back to the place [where] something needs to be done,” Fernander said, regarding the restrictions.

“Obviously, there will be challenges with the community of those who lost loved ones and are laying them to rest that we can now have 30 persons around the graveyard, but we cannot have memorials, funerals, and the like to say our final goodbyes. 

“No matter what you do that is going to be challenging for families for that to happen.”

Following the announcement on Friday, Minister Kevin Harris, director of Bahamas Information Services, the government’s communications arm, declared on his Facebook page: “As pastor, I will determine how long my sermon will run. There is no limit on how long I can worship God.”

Harris also posted: “If there is no limit on how long you can be in the number house, there should be no limit on how long I can be in the Lord’s House..”.

Fernander, who was asked generally about pastors who say they will not adhere to the one-hour restriction, said, “The pastors will do what’s in the best interest of the congregants and we will try to keep them safe.

“That’s the best that we can do until we finish negotiations.”

The new restrictions on funerals were put in place after several videos showing large funeral processions and Junkanoo rushouts were circulated on social media.

Health officials said they are grappling with new COVID patients presenting at the hospital every day. Officials say patients are generally more ill during this wave than they were in the second wave with the hospital administrator reporting the situation was “grim”. 

As of July 25, 92 people were in hospital. 

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Travis Cartwright-Carroll

Travis Cartwright-Carroll is the assistant editor. He covers a wide range of national issues. He joined The Nassau Guardian in 2011 as a copy editor before shifting to reporting. He was promoted to assistant news editor in December 2018. Education: College of The Bahamas, English

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