“Jurisdiction of God”: Churches launch legal challenge over collection restrictions
Only God has the power to restrict religious gatherings, a Steinbach-area minister said Monday during a court hearing for seven Manitoba churches battling provincial pandemic restrictions limiting their right to assembly.
“It is the jurisdiction of God,” said Tobias Tissen, minister of the Church of God (Restoration). “I don’t have the authority of God to do this.”
Tissen, who, along with his church, has been fined several times for disobeying provincial public health orders. He was the first witness to testify at the scheduled two-week hearing in Winnipeg.
Tissen and the churches, as well as a deacon and a man ticketed for attending a protest rally in Steinbach, are represented by the Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms, a Calgary-based advocacy group that has launched protests similar courts in British Columbia and Alberta.
Religious gatherings in Manitoba are currently limited to 10 people, or 25 percent of capacity, whichever is less, and everyone must wear a mask.
During cross-examination by provincial government lawyer Denis Guenette, the court saw video of a Church of God (Restoration) service recorded on January 31, a time when in-person religious services were prohibited.
Steinbach-area church choir, church groups and out-of-province speakers draw provocative crowds outside Winnipeg courthouse
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Posted: 6:28 p.m. May. 3, 2021
Undeterred by the overcast Monday afternoon chill, a choir from the Church of the Restoration of God near Steinbach stood unmasked on the back steps of the Manitoba courthouse, singing hymns to a large gathered crowd. closely on the lawn below.
“We are the church that cannot be defeated,” the choir sang, as behind the walls of the courthouse, the Church of God and other religious groups launched a constitutional challenge against the Manitoba government on public health measures in the event of a pandemic, arguing restrictions on church gatherings exceed Charter rights.
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The video showed around 60 worshipers in the pews and a youth choir of 38. No one appeared to be wearing a mask or social distancing.
“Would you agree that the churches still had to be closed that day?” Guenette asked Tissen.
âRequired by man, authorized by God,â Tissen replied.
In a heated speech, Pastor Heinrich Hildebrandt denounced the provincial health ordinances.
âCaesar thinks he can tell us how close we can be to each other,â Hildebrandt said on the video. “Caesar thinks you have too many rights.
âWe are here to fight for God,â Hildebrandt said. “We are here to stand up for the vulnerable.”
In another clip, Tissen addressed the congregation. âThank the Lord for setting our prioritiesâ¦ and let’s keep it that way, no matter the cost. ”
Tissen said church leaders did not require attendees to wear a mask (“We cannot force anyone to wear a mask”), or only sit with members of their household (“They must willfully observeâ¦ we cannot apply this “) and made no effort to limit attendance (” We do not count and have no authority to prevent anyone from coming to hear the word of God “).
Tissen admitted to participating in several recent protest rallies, including one at The Forks on April 25 that drew several hundred unmasked protesters, and another large rally in Edmonton.
When Guenette asked Tissen if he was isolating himself on his return from out of province, his lawyer Jared Brown objected, arguing that it would open Tissen to self-incrimination.
“They challenge health orders and we are trying to establish whether they are complying with health orders,” Guenette said when asked to explain the relevance of the issue.
“(Tissen) has shown that he will not play by any rules.”
Satisfied by Judge Glenn Joyal, his response would not subject him to further prosecution, Tissen said he had not isolated himself.
Fifty-seven members of the public were allowed to watch the hearing remotely, more than what would be allowed to attend most courts outside of pandemic times, Joyal noted earlier in the proceedings.
“I understand that there is some agitation as to the extent to which members of the public would have access to this hearing,” he said. “I would be very disappointed and indeed somewhat irritated by any suggestionâ¦ that members of the public are not welcome at this hearing.”
As the hearing resumed in the afternoon, a noisy protest rally attracting over 100 people began outside, coincidentally, directly in front and within earshot of the courtroom that heard legal challenge.
Several speakers, including Tissen and others from outside the province, denounced the provincial rules regarding the wearing of masks and the limited size of gatherings in churches.
– with files from Julia-Simone Rutgers
Someone once said that a journalist is just a journalist in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t have a good costume. But he’s having a good trial.
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