Hillsong Church has apologised after footage of a wild party at his church’s youth camp sparked outrage – but police have ruled out fining the religious group.
In a statement, a Hillsong spokesperson said: ‘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.’
The spokesperson said the camp events differ from festivals in that they are alcohol-free, held outdoors, and the students attending each camp – about 200 – are part of the same social network.
‘Over a three day duration the percentage of time spent singing is minor,’ they said.
NSW Police on Friday ruled out slapping the church with a fine – even after Premier Dominic Perrottet said the organisers of the camp should face the consequences.
Videos shows hundreds of attendees at a summer camp in Newcastle maskless, singing and dancing inside a large tent while a band performed onstage.
The camp came days after changes to public health orders took effect, banning singing and dancing at music festivals and forcing the cancellation of music events like the Tamworth Country Music Festival and the Grapevine Gathering in the Hunter Valley.
In a statement on Thursday night, NSW Health said it had demanded Hillsong immediately stop singing and dancing at the event.
‘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,’ Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
Singing and dancing at large events presents a high risk of COVID-19 transmission, Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said, amidst an outbreak which has seen the state record tens of thousands of cases a day.
Mr Perrottet on Friday said the health minister had been advised by his legal team that Hillsong had broken the rules.
‘If the legal teams believe that it was in breach of the public health order, then my expectation would be that a fine would be issued,’ he said.
Minister Brad Hazzard described the event as breaching both the spirit and intent of health orders
The premier joined a chorus of Australian music acts in saying he was shocked and outraged to see the footage.
‘I echoed the frustration and anger other people right across the state felt,’ he said.
‘Even if technically it was within the rules, it certainly wasn’t in the spirit of the rules.
‘If we have to tighten loopholes, we will.’
NSW Police earlier on Friday said the church will not be fined, and police will instead liaise with organisers “to ensure future compliance”.
In a statement, Hillsong said the summer camp event is ‘not similar to a musical festival in any way’.
The camps involve primarily outdoor recreational activities, with outdoor Christian services only a ‘small part’ of the program and singing an even smaller part of each service.
‘A video circulating on social media (on Thursday) reflects a few minutes of this part of the program,’ it said.
‘We follow strict COVID procedures and adhere to government guidelines.’
Hillsong Youth shared a series of videos showing its teenage followers partying to religious-themed pop music on Wednesday night
Hillsong’s Grammy award winning band performed at the youth camp
But Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp accused organisers of “pure arrogance”, the ABC reports.
‘This is the exact behaviour that health experts have deemed too risky at the moment, yet the organisers of this event seem to feel it’s absolutely fine for them to do so,’ he said.
‘This is an absolute slap in the face to the people that have lost work as a result of the current rules.’
That’s a sentiment echoed by artists on social media.
‘There are rules in place that just aren’t right,’ Sydney pop rock duo Lime Cordiale wrote on social media.
‘Festivals, clubs and pubs are closed whilst Hillsong are getting close and sweaty… confusing?’
Australian acts including Jack River, Illy and Odette also criticised the event as demonstrating a double standard, with Brisbane band Ball Park Music describing it as ‘just heartbreaking for everyone in our industry’.