- Legal challenge filed against Geneva ban on public religious services and most religious events
- Other public gatherings not subject to the same restrictions
GENEVA (1 December 2020) – Can the state ban all religious services while allowing other public gatherings to continue? In Geneva, concerned citizens filed a legal challenge against the total ban of public religious gatherings or events. The ban was put in place as part of the COVID-19 regulations of the Geneva State Council. It forbids all religious gatherings with an exception for small funerals and weddings. It is the only and first ban of its kind in Switzerland and most of Europe.
“Switzerland has a good track record in protecting the religious freedom of its citizens. It is a poster child of democracy and human rights. That makes it all the more worrying to see a total ban on all religious gatherings and events in such a drastic form. It is one of the broadest bans of its kind in Switzerland and most of Europe where similar bans have been successfully challenged. Enforcing it is a violation of the right to freedom of religion as protected in the Swiss Constitution and by international human rights standards. It disproportionately targets religious groups’ activities over commercial activities. With multiple religious groups in Geneva voicing their concerns over the disproportionality of the ban, we hope that the authorities will find a solution that protects everyone’s right to practise their religion,” said Steve Alder, the Geneva-based lawyer who filed the case with the Court.
Religious freedom under COVID-19
Across Europe, governments and religious groups have been working together to find sensible approaches in the face of a global pandemic. In some countries, for example in Germany and in France, courts have overturned blanket bans on religious services recognizing that they were not proportionate.
“This ban is a serious violation of the fundamental rights Switzerland is committed to protect in a number of international human rights agreements. European standards protecting religious freedom are very high and governments seeking to restrict it carry the burden of proving it is truly necessary and that a less restrictive approach would not work. Favouring commercial establishment over religious services is not only discriminatory but ignores the robust protection that exists in national and international law for religious freedom. We are hopeful that this will be recognized by the Swiss courts,” said Jennifer Lea, Legal Counsel for ADF International.
Images: Jennifer Lea