The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) has altered its restrictions on worship gatherings after a prominent church leader criticised them for being contradictory and discriminative.
Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston tweeted his outrage at the state's guidance, which allowed for 300 people to attend weddings but only 100 to attend a church service.
"So interesting that the NSW govt are about to allow 300 people to attend an indoor wedding, and things are being relaxed for the hospitality industry, but still no changes for churches," he wrote. "We have a building with space for 4000 people yet can only have 100 in there. Reason given is “church ppl know each other (are to friendly)."
"Do you think people are not friendly at weddings?" he asked. "It's getting to the point where it's discrimination."
On Wednesday, NSW treasurer Dom Perrottett announced that, from Friday, churches & places of worship, excluding weddings and funerals, "can have up to 300 people, subject to a COVID-19 safety plan". He also detailed an easing of restrictions on public gyms.
"This is a great announcement for the body and the soul, so whatever you worship, there’s something for you in this one,” he said.
Speaking on Australia's Today Show, Houston hit out at the rules, insisting that churches were being left behind while large-scale sporting events were permitted.
"Of course watching the football and people are cheering and hugging and spitting and high fiving, community event numbers are growing, but there has been absolutely no change to churches," he told the Today Show on Wednesday.
"You can have 300 people indoors for a wedding. But you can't have anything like that, 100 people indoors obviously socially distanced, no matter how big the building.'
"We have some big buildings but we are only allowed 100 people in there."
In comments made to Sydney's 2GB radio, Houston added: "(At) the [AFL] grand final this week, 40,000 to 45,000 people (will be) hugging, shouting, spitting, high-fiving - it's just the inconsistency of it," he said.
"Churches seem to be left behind."
On Tuesday, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, said that he had raised concerns with state Health Minister Brad Hazzard about the “inconsistencies” surrounding the virus restrictions.
“We spoke about inconsistencies in current rules and he assured me that an announcement tomorrow will help churches better serve our communities," Davies tweeted.
Today, he welcomed the new guidance and called Christians to pray for those who are developing a Covid-19 vaccine:
Health Minister Hazzard said that he had not been officially notified about Hillsong's objections, but that many other places of worship have been granted exemptions from the rules. "Where we have had messages come to us, we have tried to respond through exemption processes,” he added, noting that St Mary’s Cathedral, St Andrew’s Cathedral, the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque and the Central Synagogue had all been permitted exemptions.
NSW Health is currently treating 72 cases of Covid-19, with one patient in intensive care.
In total, Australia has logged just under 30,000 cases of the virus, with 905 deaths recorded.