Anger over church services for hundreds without face masks; Mosques, Synagogues close doors
Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security will be meeting with church organizations on Monday after a Staphorst church sparked outrage by allowing 600 people without masks to come to its three services on Sunday. A number of mosques in Amsterdam announced that they will be closed for Friday prayers for the time being, to prevent the coronavirus spreading among their congregations, NOS report.
There is no maximum number of visitors for religious gatherings under the Netherlands' coronavirus measures, provided that attendees leave their name and number for eventual source and contact tracing and undergo a health check upon entry.
According to the Hersteld Hervormde Gemeente, it followed these rules on Sunday. "The number of visitors seems high, but we have a large church," church spokesperson Albert Bouwman said to NOS. According to him, the church can seat 2,300 people. Due to social distancing, they've limited attendees to no more than 600 people per service.
According to the broadcaster, attendees were requested not to speak to the press and to abide by the rules.
Parliamentarians were outraged by the large church services, while the Netherlands has been seeing a record number of new Covid-19 infections every day for weeks.
"Churches in our country have a freedom that they handle very responsibly in this crisis," Gert-Jan Segers, leader of coalition and Christian party ChristenUnie, said on Twitter. "Fortunately, they are also not hotspots for contamination. But if you hold a church service with 600 people, you are not setting a good example like other churches do, as far as I am concerned."
"Even with the necessary restrictions, in these difficult times justice can be done to the fundamental right of religious freedom," MP Chris van Dam of the CDA, the other Christian party in the Rutte III coalition, said to NOS. According to him, almost all churches, mosques and synagogues are being careful.
SP leader Lilian Marijnissen called it "totally impossible to explain" that churches are allowed to have 600 attendees while so many businesses are in dire straits due to visitor limits. "Theaters and the catering industry must adhere to the rule of a maximum of 30 people per room. This is irresponsible, especially towards the employees in the care sector."
PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher thinks that religious institutions shouldn't be exempted from visitor limits. "It is really irresponsible that hundreds of people in Staphorst come together in a church, while other Dutch people are asked not to stand on the sidelines of their children's football match," he said to the broadcaster.
PVV leader Geert Wilders called for equal treatment when it comes to visitor numbers. And D66 leader Rob Jetten said that Grapperhaus needs to have a "penetrating conversation" with religious institutions.
The Justice Minister will do just that on Monday. A planned meeting with church organizations, to discuss what is and is not allowed under the coronavirus rules, was moved up by a few days following the Staphorst outrage. "The cabinet sees that most churches, mosques, synagogues and temples take the new corona measures into account," a spokesperson for Grapperhaus said to NOS. "Unfortunately a few churches do not and Grapperhaus reminded these churches of the importance of getting the virus under control."
Multiple mosques in Amsterdam decided to be extra safe and will temporarily remain closed for weekly prayers, due to the high number of coronavirus infections in the capital. They're also responding to an appeal by mayor Femke Halsema for religious organizations to adhere to the visitor limits in place for the hospitality and entertainment sectors.
Mosque Taqwa wrote on Facebook that limiting Friday prayers to a "random 30 people" is not really possible in practice. The mosque therefore decided to rather be closed for prayers and services. "We at Taqwa Mosque want to protect the elderly and vulnerable people in our society."
The Blauwe Mosque will close every Friday for the next three weeks, Imam Yassin Elforkani said to AT5. "We do this as a precaution and to ensure safety for all of us," the Imam said, calling it a "well-considered decision". The mosque will be open during the rest of the week for the time being. Masks were already mandatory in the mosque.