A petition asking the State government for equality for communities of faith in easing Covid restrictions has now been signed by over ten thousand people. The petition argues that places of worship should be treated equitably in the COVID re-opening roadmap, and urges the re-opening of Melbourne’s places of worship.

Entitled Equality for Victoria’s People of Faith, the petition was started by Catholic Melburnians Mrs Ewa Chlipala and Dr Joanna Waloszek Czerwinski on 29 September. It has since been endorsed by Christian organisations in Victoria including various independent Catholic, evangelical, and Greek Orthodox communities, as well as Hindu Council of Australia and Islamic Council of Victoria, with religious leaders calling for religious gatherings to be declared as an essential service. ‘We are particularly concerned about the inequitable treatment of people of faith under “Step 3” of your “Roadmap”,’ the petition states.‘

For example, “Step 3” permits cafes and restaurants to seat up to 20 people indoors and 50 people outdoors yet restricts religious communities to outdoor gatherings of only 10 people and indoor private worship to household bubbles.’

‘In regional Victoria, currently outside Melbourne's lockdown zone, restaurants can operate with 20 people indoors and 50 outdoors,’ says Fr Marcus Goulding, Assistant Priest of St Bernard’s in Bacchus Marsh speaking to ABC Radio to explain the request for parity across sectors.

‘This should apply to churches,’ argues Fr Goulding, where, in regional Victoria, ‘churches are restricted to ten people outdoors and households indoors.’

‘There is no logical reason for this discrepancy,’ the petition states. ‘People of faith are able to attend a service in a place of worship whilst wearing a face mask; physical distancing is not a challenge in what are often very large venues; services are time-limited and rigorous infection-control measures are able to be implemented. A place of worship can and should be accessible in a COVID-safe way.’

Regional Victoria is currently under step 3 of the roadmap out of lockdown.

‘We’re asking that we be treated fairly and equally under the roadmap,’ says Fr Goulding, adding that churches were safer than being in a restaurant ‘because services were time-limited to an hour at most’, and those inside wore masks most of the time.

‘The Premier said everything is on the table, and this is a simple adjustment that can be made safely to treat people of faith fairly,’ says Fr Marcus.

‘Even to have twenty people indoors and fifty people outdoors would be amazing for churches. We haven’t had those sorts of gatherings since March.’

‘It’s not just an equity issue, it’s also a wellbeing issue. For many people, this is central to their wellbeing.’

People of all faiths are being encouraged to sign the petition, with organisers hopeful that the petition can be tabled in the Victorian Parliament.