A church operating in the UK has had its online broadcast disrupted by the police and its leader threatened with legal action for allegedly violating coronavirus rules – that apparently also prohibit playing music loudly.
But in the end, Thames Valley Police was forced to apologize for what its chief superintendent called “a mistake” and a failure of his officers to properly understand the regulations governing the work of online churches during the pandemic.
The incident happened on November 20, as the Kingdom Faith Ministries International Church was broadcasting its service from Milton Keynes. This was necessary since churches in the UK have been effectively closed by the government which is prohibiting believers from physically gathering.
But despite adhering to the rules that say a place of worship can still be attended for the purpose of broadcasting from there with only those essential for the job allowed to be present, a pair of police officers showed up at the church’s door and insisted that support staff had to leave, and that two people were sufficient to perform the task of broadcasting the service.
Reverend Daniel Mateola, who heads the church, said the police also claimed there were 30 people in the building, but he said the number was actually half this, and that each person present had a role allowed by the government’s guidance and was located in a different room for the sake of social distancing. The guidance does not mention a specific number of people allowed to be in a place of worship at one time, saying instead that these should be persons with essential roles and that their number should be kept “as small as possible.”
After Mateola tried to explain that no rules had been broken, the police called in reinforcements, with the commotion eventually breaking up the broadcast, while Mateola was also informed he would be prosecuted for violating coronavirus regulations.
Commenting after this threat had been dropped and the police admitted to making a mistake, Mateola said he had been treated like a criminal, and noted that he respected Covid rules even though he joined 122 other church leaders in England and Wales who are legally challenging the government’s decision to close churches.
“If someone had said at the start of 2020 that by November the police would be interpreting and enforcing government rules which involved closing down legal broadcasts from a church and prosecuting a pastor, no one would have believed them,” said Andrea Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Center.