As British Columbians await the opportunity to be inoculated against COVID-19, it is evident that the pandemic continues to affect our daily lives.
In the summer, the easing of restrictions allowed many residents to temporarily expand their bubbles. Cases increased just before the holiday season, leading the province to compel British Columbians to limit their contacts and stay at home as much as possible.
There is no clear timetable for the return of many of the things we seek and enjoy. Spectator sports and concerts remain a huge question mark. Professional hockey is being played inside empty arenas, and there is no clarity on when other leagues will go back to operating the way they used to. Most gyms and yoga studios are closed. Restaurants have expanded their take-out and delivery offerings, as empty offices make it harder to justify opening for lunch.
Another type of get-together that had to adapt to the current state of affairs is religious worship. Since the start of the pandemic, some churches and temples have tried to make modifications. Cable companies have devoted more channels to stream religious gatherings for those isolating at home. We have also seen “drive-by communions” in some communities, aimed at maintaining physical distancing regulations.
A couple of months ago, the provincial government prohibited all in-person faith-related gatherings in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and gurdwaras are only allowed to hold services for special occasions – such as baptisms, weddings and funerals – and with 10 people or fewer in attendance.
Research Co. and Glacier Media asked British Columbians about this situation and found that there is overwhelming support for what the provincial government has established. Four in five British Columbians (81%) agree with banning all in-person faith-related gatherings, while 13% disagree with it and 6% are undecided.
Significant majorities of British Columbians across all five regions are in favour of the provincial government’s decision, including 89% in Vancouver Island, 80% in Metro Vancouver, 79% in southern B.C., 78% in the Fraser Valley and 70% in northern B.C. Residents who cast ballots for all three major parties in last year’s provincial election are also in agreement: 88% among BC New Democratic Party voters, 84% among BC Liberal voters and 80% among BC Green Party voters.
The numbers show remarkable consistency on the issue of in-person worship services regardless of what residents believe in. Three in four Canadians who described themselves as agnostic (75%) agree with the prohibition, along with 79% of those who have no religion, 87% of self-described atheists and 81% of those who are Christian.
Observance of the new guidelines has not been universal. Some churches in British Columbia have been issued $2,300 tickets for holding in-person services in contravention of provincial orders. When we asked the province’s residents about this, 40% believe the fine that has been levied is “about right,” 39% consider it “too low” and 12% deem it “too high.”
The appetite for a larger fine that would perhaps deter these congregations is highest among British Columbians aged 55 and over (49%), Vancouver Islanders (51%), agnostics (51%) and atheists (50%). The province’s Christians are more likely to believe that the penalty is adequate (41%) than to wish for it to be larger (34%) or smaller (18%).
Late last year, we analyzed the religious adherence of Canadians and Americans. In British Columbia, only 47% of residents considered religion as “very important” or “moderately important” in their daily lives – significantly below other features such as career (66%) country (91%), family (93%) and friends (also 93%).
British Columbians appear to be deeply wary of the possibility of in-person worship leading to more cases of COVID-19, at a time when residents are being asked again to stay apart. Regardless of the precautions that could be in place to bend the rules inside a temple, a massive proportion of residents of all beliefs would prefer to rely on other methods to carry on with religious adherence during the pandemic.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from January 16 to January 18, 2021, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.