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Irish people of faith call for government commitment to religious freedom

  • Church services allowed to resume May 10 after a blanket ban of almost a year
  • Christians petition government to pledge never to repeat disproportionate measures with “Let Us Worship” campaign

DUBLIN (7 May 2021) – People of faith are signing an open letter, addressed to the Irish Prime Minister, Micheál Martin TD, demanding a commitment never to ban church worship in Ireland again.

Church doors will open once again on Monday, after public worship was forbidden for almost a full year, with criminal penalties imposed on those who left their homes to attend services and masses. Despite commercial public venues such as dry cleaners and off-licenses being allowed to open with safety measures in place, worship in church was strictly prohibited.

The open letter, backed by human rights group ADF International, is available to read and sign at www.letusworship.global/ireland.

“There is no clear reason as to why the Irish government prevented places of worship from opening for so long. Other European countries allowed religious worship to continue with safety precautions which protect both the public at religious services and the wider community,” said Lorcán Price, Irish barrister and Legal Counsel for ADF International.

The letter, launched this week, makes three concrete asks of the leader of the Irish government.

First, the letter asks that the Taoiseach affirm respect for the fundamental right to freedom of religion, which is enshrined in Article 44 of the Constitution and protected in international human rights law.

Second, it demands that he recognize that churches are an essential part of society, and finally, that he commits that his government will never again impose a blanket ban on public worship.

“In Scotland, we saw the same disproportionate measures struck down by the top civil court as “unlawful”. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, protected by the Irish Constitution, and it’s vital that the Irish government recognise this. Irish people of faith were deprived of worship, of the sacraments, and of the hope that the church can offer at a time when they were most needed – at a time of crisis. The Irish government must show that it understands that communal worship is essential for many Irish people, and commit to never again imposing such a draconian ban,” continued Price.

Legal challenge to blanket worship ban pending before courts

Declan Ganley, who filed a legal challenge after seeing the impact on all faith communities, is redoubling his efforts to ensure that the blanket ban on worship will never be imposed again and to hold the government to account.

The businessman’s claim for a judicial review into the disproportionate ban mirrors that of Canon Tom White in Scotland. In March, the Glasgow priest joined with 27 other faith leaders to successfully have the Scottish government’s blanket ban on worship ruled unlawful and struck down.

Ganley is hopeful for a similar decision from the Irish court.

“I welcome the steps that the government is taking to reopen churches. However, this does not reverse the fact that for most of the past year, churches have been subjected to unfair treatment in comparison to places of commerce,” said Ganley, in response to the news that the government would allow services to resume this weekend.

“There is no clear explanation as to why the Irish people should have been deprived of an essential source of comfort and hope in such a time of national grief. There’s no clear logic as to why an airy, open church, with plenty of space, should be considered somehow more dangerous than a bicycle shop. Are people of faith really more contagious than others?” he continued.

“We know from the case of Canon Tom White in Scotland that the decision to completely ban public worship is an unlawful one. While I am very thankful that church doors will once again open in Ireland, this case remains important. Now more than ever, we need a clear decision from the court as to whether this draconian ban was ever justified in the first place. And it is also a critical moment for the future of faith in Ireland. The courts now have the opportunity to ensure that the community is never again deprived access to a place to meet with God and minister to the suffering at a time of need.”

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