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Europe’s Top Court to rule on Covid-19 worship ban challenges

  • ADF International intervenes at European Court of Human Rights in cases challenging blanket bans on worship in Croatia and Greece 
  • Ruling will follow judgments upholding right to worship in Scotland, Switzerland & Chile 

STRASBOURG (12 October 2021) – Is it legal for a government to completely ban public worship in the name of protecting public health? The European Court of Human Rights will decide on this issue regarding bans which were imposed in Greece and Croatia during 2020.

“Freedom of religion and belief is a human right that must be afforded the highest protection. This includes the right to manifest one’s faith in public. This right is protected in European law, yet throughout the pandemic, we saw multiple governments across Europe impose disproportionate bans on opening places of worship. There is no reason why authorities could not find solutions that protect both public health and communal worship. For people of faith, worshipping together can be as important as receiving food and water. We hope that the European Court will uphold the rights of all people to live out their faith, as has been seen in Scotland, Switzerland and elsewhere,” said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director (Advocacy) for ADF International.

A global trend: disproportionate worship bans declared “unlawful”

Human rights group ADF International has supported similar legal challenges against blanket bans on worship across Europe, Africa and Latin America.

“We welcome the fact that governments have reopened churches worldwide. But legal challenges to worship bans remain important. The courts now have the opportunity to ensure that the community is never again deprived of access to a place to meet with God and minister to the suffering at a time of need,” explained Clarke.

In March, Scotland’s top civil court found that a blanket ban on public worship was unlawful. The challenge was successfully brought by 27 faith leaders and a Glasgow Priest, Canon Tom White. The Scottish decision affirmed that any restrictions on fundamental freedoms must be necessary and proportionate. In November 2020, Westminster’s chief medical and scientific advisors had conceded that evidence for church closures was “anecdotal” at best and “not based on scientific fact.”

One day after the Scottish ruling in March, the Chilean Supreme Court unanimously ruled that COVID-19 restrictions have been applied in a discriminatory manner against believers in Chile. The landmark ruling recognized that freedom of religion is a human right that cannot simply be suspended.

Courts to decide on worship ban challenges in Ireland, Uganda, South Africa

Legal action is currently underway in Uganda, where ADF International is supporting challenges brought by an alliance of Catholic, Evangelical and Muslim faith representatives, along with parliamentarians. Throughout the summer, malls and arcades were allowed to open while Churches were not.

A similar challenge is also pending before the court in Ireland, where for almost a year, people of faith were criminalized for attending public worship. Leaving one’s home to attend a worship service could have incurred a potential penalty of a fine, or up to six months in prison. To find out more, visit www.letusworship.global/ireland.

 

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