Hillsong Church event has been likened to music festival ‘obviously in violation’ of NSW COVID restrictions

A religious organization has been criticized for flouting COVID restrictions by holding an event with live music and dancing and not social distancing, while other music festivals have been forced to cancel.

Changes to public health orders implemented on Tuesday saw singing and dancing banned at indoor and outdoor festivals across NSW in an effort to mitigate rising case numbers.

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The restrictions forced festivals including the grape gathering to postpone or cancel their events, while large religious gatherings were able to move forward.

The religious hiatus meant Heilong Church was able to hold a three-day “youth summer camp” event in Newcastle this week from Wednesday to Saturday.

Hillsong Church has been criticized for holding an event with live music and dancing and a lack of social distancing, while festivals have been canceled due to COVID restrictions. credit: Instagram / hillsongyouth

But videos have since emerged of hundreds of maskless participants singing, dancing and mingling inside a large tent while performers sing on stage.

The footage sparked a collective reaction from artists and fans in New South Wales, with people criticizing the “double standards”.

“obvious in the breach”

NSW Health on Thursday asked Hillsong to “immediately stop singing and dancing” at the event because it was a “violation of the public health system”.

Attendees can be seen dancing and singing without masks or social distancing
Attendees can be seen dancing and singing without masks or social distancing credit: Instagram / hillsongyouth

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said that while the health order does not apply to religious services, it does to major recreational facilities.

“It is clear that this event violates both the spirit and intent of the system in place to help keep the community safe,” he said in a statement.

Health Director Kerry Chant said singing and dancing at large events poses a significant risk of COVID transmission.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the event was a clear breach of the health system.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the event was a clear breach of the health system. credit: Paul Braven/AAPIMAGE

NSW Police said it would “communicate with event organizers…to ensure future compliance with public health orders after NSW Health deemed the site a major recreational facility.”

It did not comment on whether fines would be imposed or whether the event would be cancelled.

Hillsung defends the event

Although the event featured live singing, dancing, and music on stage, Hillsong defended “summer camp” by saying that it was “an annual camp for high school-age youth” and “is nothing like a music festival in any way.”

The religious group states on its website that it is committed to holding “COVID safe Summercamps” and “all activities will be conducted in line with government health orders and applicable COVID safety plans.”

In a statement, Hillsong said an “open-air Christian service” involving singing is held during camp, but it was only a “small part of the programme.”

Young people can be seen dancing and singing to the tunes of live music, but Hillsong stresses that the event was “in no way” like a music festival. credit: Instagram / hillsongyouth

She said the video of young people without masks singing and dancing – shared on Hillsong Instagram – “reflects a few minutes” from that part of the programme.

“We are following strict measures regarding the coronavirus and are adhering to government guidelines,” the statement said.

Hillsong said it has provided rapid antigen tests, travel face masks, sterilization procedures and deep cleaning.

slap in the face’

Musicians and fans criticized the event as a “double standard”, with Brisbane rockers DZ Deathrays calling it “a slap in the face for the arts industry”.

“There are rules in place that just don’t hold true,” Sydney’s pop-rock duo Lyme Cordial wrote on social media.

“Festivals, clubs and pubs are closed while Hillsong approaches and sweats…confusing?” they wrote.

Industry members responded to the event, taking to social media to form a parody group called Thrillsong.

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“Welcome to Thrillsong, a collective effort of Australian music,” The Jungle Giants wrote on Instagram.

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Andrew Naughtie

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