The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 affirms the right to freedom of religion and belief, and the Human Rights Act 1993 prohibits discrimination based on religious and ethical belief.
The Government announced a 10-person limit at religious services, weddings and funerals tangihanga at Alert Level 2. As context: restaurants, shopping malls, and movie theatres were allowed up to 100 people, but to attend a place of worship, there was an upper limit of 10 people. Funerals were later raised to a 50-person limit. This raised important human rights and freedom issues. While the COVID-19 response should be cautiously managed, it raised potential interference with civil liberties. There were questions about the COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill, and whether the sweeping police powers were a breach of privacy. These are unprecedented times for New Zealand to experience a pandemic and have the rights and freedoms of New Zealanders roused. It has bestirred one to question the democratic process of passing legislation. Such as the organisations that were concerned with democratic liberties: namely the Human Rights Commission, the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty NZ and National MPs. Perhaps it is timely to review the position of religion in New Zealand or religion in secularism. There are clearly interesting debates on both sides as there are conversations for physical health versus spiritual wellbeing.
What is earnest to note is that although Church services were not considered essential services, for many practising Christians, including myself: Church services are essential in that Church and Sacrament are not optional. It is fundamental for spiritual health and wellbeing; just as physical health is important. While the country continues to accelerate, Church services managed online and in congregation will continue to pray for the safety and protection of New Zealand at the core of its services (Psalm 91). During the pandemic, the Church at large has been compliant in following government directive.
I do not speak on behalf of the Church in this. The content of this letter is my own views and opinion.
Rubinstine Manukia Church Lawyer, Christchurch.