by Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - German police stormed a church service as pressure mounts on Europe's devoted Christians to stop gathering or accept government rules amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Police said Sunday they raided a "free church" meeting of 150 worshippers in the town of Herford, in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Several of those present, particularly the organizers, may receive hefty fines, police warned in a statement.
More than 100 attendees face charges for "violating coronavirus restrictions on congregating, social distancing and communal singing."
Under Germany's lockdown rules, up to 20 people can attend such services indoors, "as long as hygiene and social distancing are adhered to."
Police complained that the large group in Herford, which included children, were not wearing face masks. Security forces also noted that they were not observing distancing regulations, and "were singing at times."
German media claimed that no significant corona outbreaks were known in traditional state-supported Catholic dioceses and regional Protestant churches. "However, there were chains of infection in individual free churches, which are characterized by a family-like parish life with a pious character," commented German broadcaster ZDF.
However, critics of the church closures will point to the German constitution which specifically safeguards the "unhindered practice of religion."
Saturday's raid in Germany came as worshiping Christians in the neighboring Netherlands also faced growing criticism from authorities and cooperating media.
The largest Dutch daily De Telegraaf (The Telegraph) has reporters monitoring churches. "Despite repeated requests from the government to celebrate Christmas in a small circle, some church communities in the Netherlands still come together," complained De Telegraaf.
It cited "hundreds of people" gathering in "corona hotspot" Urk to attend a recent Christmas service. The postcard-perfect town, known for its traditional fishing community, has more churches and congregations than most other municipalities in Europe.
De Telegraaf also noted that many gathered elsewhere in the Dutch Bible belt area, including in Staphorst. "We have to go inside quickly. Otherwise, we won't have a place anymore," an unidentified Christian was quoted as saying there.
Most criticisms were reserved for Urk. De Telegraaf described Urk as having an "aggressive atmosphere" because villagers "do not want anything from prying eyes." An elderly Christian woman allegedly shouted an explicit to reporters. "Now we have to explain again why we come together. When are you going to write down that we don't have to worry? Because God protects us all here," she added.