Three evangelical pastors, along with several Jewish congregations, have filed a joint lawsuit with the Australian Federal Government, seeking an injunction against the New South Wales and Victorian Government’s current COVID-19 lockdown measures.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in the Federal Court, argues the state governments have selectively discriminated against religious groups in denying citizens the ability to congregate in Houses of Worship by arbitrarily deeming them “non-essential,” while allowing the public to gather elsewhere, such as in supermarkets and liquor stores.
The lawsuit will argue that Houses of Worship provide significant spiritual, psychological, and emotional support for communities, especially those who are suffering financially and psychologically from the impacts of the state government’s lockdown policies.
Furthermore, it will be argued that the governments’ indiscriminate selection of “essential” and “non-essential” venues under the Public Health Order is not supported by robust scientific or medical evidence.
According to the complaint, neither the NSW nor Victorian Governments have the constitutional or common law power to deny citizens their religious freedom which includes their ability to fulfill particular religious obligations and practices in their designated House of Worship.
Internationally renowned COVID-19 expert, Jayanta Bhattacharya, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University in California has also provided an independent expert report in support of the action brought forward by the plaintiffs.
Lawyer Tony Nikolic said his clients were forced to appeal to the courts after the matter had been repeatedly ignored by the NSW state government, in particular.
“My clients have attempted to engage with the NSW and Victorian Premiers and their Ministers as well as various NSW, Victorian, and Federal Parliamentarians to have their grievances addressed in a diplomatic and respectful manner.
“Unfortunately, in the context of NSW, the NSW Government has been unwilling to engage with my clients in any meaningful dialogue. As a result, our only last venue for relief is the courts.”
Pastor Robert Ayoub, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said they have exhausted other options to no avail.
“Now we have. a legal option, where we take the matter to the courts and have it heard by a court,” Pastor Ayoub said in a recent interview. “We believe this is a respectful way to do things, and importantly, a legal way to do things.
“We’re not here to be vindictive, or dishonouring towards the government, we’re just seeking to be able to practice our religion freely, and we’re appealing to our government to allow. us to love our God and also love our neighbour, to love our community.”
The plaintiffs in the case have also backed The Moses Statement, an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the State Premiers, urging a reopening of churches across the nation.
The Moses Statement can be read and signed here.
The case will be heard in court later today.