The French Government has been ordered to review its limit on the number of people allowed in places of worship by the country’s highest court.
Last month, the French Government announced its autumn lockdown would be lifted in stages, with non-essential retail and places of worship allowed to reopen. However, the number of worshippers in a building was capped at 30, regardless of its capacity.
Roman Catholic organisations challenged the limit, pointing out that large churches and cathedrals in particular are more spacious than retail outlets. The French State Council agreed, saying the rule was not proportionate and that it constituted a “grave and manifestly illegal breach” of an “essential component of freedom of worship.”.
Delivering the verdict, Judge Aladjidi stated: “Freedom of worship presents the character of a fundamental liberty. As governed by the law, this liberty is not merely the right of every individual to express the religious convictions of his or her choice while respecting public order.
“It also carries among its essential components, subject to the same condition, the right freely to participate collectively in ceremonies, in particular in places of worship.”
the fundamental liberties at stake are not the same
He added that the French Government had not proved that the 30-person rule was justified.
While the court acknowledged that some other activities remain prohibited, Judge Aladjidi said these activities “are not of the same nature and the fundamental liberties at stake are not the same”.
In Scotland, churches are advised to stick to a 50-person limit in Tiers 0-3. In the highest tier, which will remain in place until 11 December, the number of people in church is restricted in guidance to just 20, regardless of capacity.
Around 2.3 million live in the affected areas, and people are not permitted to travel between council areas, meaning those who do not live in the same area as their church will not be able to attend.
In England and Wales, the governments have been threatened with legal action over church closures during lockdowns. More than 100 leaders from a variety of Christian denominations are seeking a judicial review, saying the ban on public worship is “unlawful” because it breaches Article 9 rights on freedom of religion.
Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that everyone has the right “to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, including the freedom to manifest that belief “either alone or in community with others and in public or private”.