Hillsong Church says it will follow NSW Health’s directive to cease singing and dancing at a youth summer camp in NSW, two activities banned in venues and music festivals in the state under current COVID-19 restrictions.
The footage, which was shared to Hillsong’s own social media accounts and went viral afterward, showed attendees singing and dancing along to performances, with the majority not observing social distancing or wearing masks. The camp, for those in grades 10 to 12, kicked off January 12 and runs until tomorrow (January 15) in Newcastle.
The video prompted heavy criticism from Australians on social media, with scores of artists even forming a satirical ‘supergroup’ Thrillsong to call out the apparent double standard in how NSW’s singing and dancing ban was applied.
This was yesterday south of Newcastle at Hillsong’s summer camp. Singing and ritual are part of faith (inc mine) but on any test this is an indoor music festival. As the live music industry again is forced to cancel gigs this 👇 was entirely legal. Is that fair? #nswpol pic.twitter.com/Ogp30eER03
— Elliot Stein (@ElliotJStein) January 13, 2022
In a statement sent to NME yesterday, NSW Health requested Hillsong “immediately stop singing and dancing at an event being held in the Newcastle area”, noting that “singing and dancing at a major recreation facility is in breach of the Public Health Order”.
“While the Order does not apply to religious services, it does apply to major recreation facilities and this event is clearly in breach of both the spirit and intent of the Order, which is in place to help keep the community safe,” Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
In a statement provided to NME prior to NSW Health’s statement, Hillsong said their youth camps were “not similar to a music festival in any way”, saying they “involve primarily outdoor recreational activities including sports and games”.
Today (January 14), Hillsong has issued a statement that says since speaking to NSW Health, it had agreed to “cease congregant/student singing and dancing during the services that occur on the campsite and have immediately and willingly enacted that instruction”.
“Hillsong Church has always abided by public health orders as directed by each government, and takes COVID safe procedures very seriously for all services and events,” a statement from the organisation reads.
“Ensuring the safety of those attending Hillsong events, and supporting the wider community effort to keep Australia safe, are both priorities for our church.”
Echoing its comments yesterday, Hillsong clarified once again that its outdoor youth camps “are not music festivals” and “include sporting activities and games”. Hillsong went on to say that the NSW government had designated the events “low-risk as described under current guidelines” and that it had “implemented strict COVID safe procedures before and during each camp”.
“These camps have a Christian focus and include worship services. Over a three day duration the percentage of time spent singing is minor. However we regret giving any perception that we were not playing our part to keep NSW safe and we sincerely apologise to the community at large. Our heart is for people, and loving and caring for all people is at the core of our church.”
While speaking to press earlier today, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said he was “completely shocked” to see the footage of the youth camp and understood “the frustration and anger other people right across the state felt”.
Perrottet went on to say he was “incredibly disappointed” by Hillsong going against “the spirit” of the current rules and that it was his “expectation” a fine would be issued if there had been a breach. The maximum penalty for a corporation found to be breaching a public health order is $55,000.
“I’ll take the advice in relation to the legal teams at NSW Health and if they are in breach, which is what the information I’ve received from the Health Minister is, then a fine should be issued.”
In a statement today, via Junkee, NSW Police said it would “liaise with organisers” of the event “to ensure future compliance with the Public Health Orders after NSW Health deemed the location to be a major recreational facility”, but did not elaborate on whether organisers of the event would be fined.
As the footage circulated yesterday, Hillsong were roundly criticised for appearing to flout the rules while shows and festivals across the state (and country) are being postponed or cancelled as a result of the restrictions, with artists like Frenzal Rhomb guitarist Lindsay McDougall, rapper Illy and Yours Truly‘s Mikaila Delgado weighing in.
Acts like Peking Duk, What So Not, KLP, The Jungle Giants and more announced the formation of satirical supergroup Thrillsong, saying they were “ready to take bookings for religious and sporting events.”
⛪️INTRODUCING THRILLSONG ⛪️
We’re ready to play your next religious or sporting event in NSW. feat –@whatsonot@jack_river@thejunglegiants@syccoworld@confidenceman_@dunerats@limecordiale@illy@firstname.lastname@example.org
AND MORE pic.twitter.com/9JH9LcL5SJ
— peking duk (@pekingduk) January 13, 2022
The group, which has garnered the support of more Australian artists including ex-Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns, said in a statement that while they “firmly support measures to protect our fans and communities and to safeguard our health care workers”, they requested that “if rules are made, they apply to everyone equally.”
When asked by NME for comment on the formation of Thrillsong, Hillsong had no comment.
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