Hillsong church will not be fined by police over a New South Wales youth camp where congregants were filmed singing and dancing, despite the state’s health minister saying the event was “clearly in breach of both the spirit and intent” of public health orders.
The church apologised on Friday for “giving any perception that we were not playing our part to keep New South Wales safe” after footage of its annual youth summer camp near Newcastle provoked widespread outrage amid the state’s Covid case numbers.
NSW police said officers had attended the event in the Newcastle area and spoken with organisers but would not issue a fine.
“Following discussions with organisers and after consultation with NSW Health, no infringement will be issued,” acting assistant commissioner Peter Glynn said in a statement on Friday.
The church confirmed it had been instructed by NSW Health to “cease congregant and student singing and dancing” at the camp, and had immediately done so.
However, the church continued to deny that the camp, which runs until Sunday, had any similarity to music festivals, which are explicitly banned both indoors and outdoors until 27 January under an amendment to the NSW public health order. Religious services are exempt, but footage of maskless congregants dancing to pop music at the camp has angered many at a time when festivals and concerts are being cancelled.
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“It is important to clarify that the current youth camps we are holding are not music festivals,” Hillsong said, claiming the camp was “low risk as described under current guidelines”, because it was held outdoors, with sports activities and no alcohol, and the roughly 200 students attending were all “part of the same social network”.
“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,” the statement said.
The NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, said earlier the event was “clearly in breach of both the spirit and intent” of the public health order. The premier, Dominic Perrottet, said he was “incredibly disappointed” by the scenes and said the church should be fined if it was found to have breached the order.