Fr Joe Grayland: Is the Government’s de facto ban on religious services a form of prejudice?

Fr Joe Grayland: Is the Government’s de facto ban on religious services a form of prejudice?

Every day, we see the powers that promulgate laws that oblige one to take certain routes and [those] that do not follow these indications or do not want them to be part of their legislation, are accused and politely persecuted” – Pope Francis

What does the Government’s decision to limit religious services to ten people mean when restaurant, bars, schools, Kura, bowling clubs and airlines can open?

Is this decision based on strong reasoning and compelling logic or is it just religious discrimination, based on anti-religious pragmaticism?

If five-year-olds at school, revellers in restaurants and people in cinemas are responsible enough for their own and other people’s safety why are people attending religious services considered less capable? Is this an example of paternalistic politics that treats some well and others badly? Where is the team of five million now that so many have been excluded?

Or, is it an economic decision based on the notion that religious organisations do not contribute to the tax-base, so they should have fewer rights to gather?

If tracking, tracing and social distancing were absolute values, why have I never been asked for my contact details at New World or Countdown over the last seven weeks and why have there been so many people in the same aisle as me?

In secular liberal democracies like New Zealand, the dominant view is that religious practice and belief should remain personal and private. The religious voice should not sully the purer political and social debate.  In this scenario, the state tolerates religious practice and belief; it does not embrace it.

In our country, religious believers have “learned-silence” and internalised discrimination. We have learned to hide our belief. Disempowered, we have learnt not to disturb the neighbours. We have internalised the discrimination to such an extent that we have lost our voice.

If we do not challenge the presumption that religion is a private activity then our values of life, justice and equity will continue to be ignored.

A religious worldview is a valid worldview.

Too often, we are silenced by the argument that religion is the source of all the world’s problems. This gross oversimplification is used by people with limited historical knowledge who cannot distinguish between inauthentic religion and authentic religion.

Inauthentic religion is the manipulation of beliefs and people to gain power, prestige and position. Authentic religion is the source of charity that changes the world through acts of mercy and forgiveness.

Lest we forget: men and women with religious worldviews have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, sheltered the oppressed and rescued migrants as the outpouring of their religious faith. And we continue to do so, even when the organisation of government does not.

Authentic religion is at work “when hatred is overcome by love, vengeance gives way to forgiveness, and hatred is quenched by mercy.”

Authentic politics respects all people. It protects all life – without exception – promotes equity and cares for the weakest. Paternalistic politics does none of these.

We cannot open our churches for public worship because of the Government’s decision; this is not our decision. We comply because we are responsible citizens.

All religious faith-communities are impacted. If religious leaders and communities can follow the guidelines for public safety why shouldn’t they gather? Not being given the chance is the problem. The reasons for this decision are even more problematic, because it comes across as arbitrary and capricious.

Fr Joe Grayland is the parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes in Palmerston North.

Photo by Russ Allison Loar on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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