The French Government has been ordered to lift the ban on meetings in churches within eight days by its top administrative court.
Although the government recently eased its coronavirus restrictions by allowing private meetings of up to ten people, this did not apply to religious settings, so that all church meetings were still banned. This difference of treatment on religious grounds was the reason for the court’s ruling.
France’s Council of State found the ban was “disproportionate to the objective of preserving public health”, given the updated lockdown rules.
Freedom of worship
In the ruling, the court added that freedom to worship is a fundamental right, including “the right to participate collectively in ceremonies, in particular in places of worship”.
It said the French Government’s restriction on church meetings “constitutes a serious and manifestly unlawful interference” with that freedom, and called on legislators only to implement measures which are “strictly proportionate to the health risks incurred”.
serious and manifestly unlawful interference
Senator Bruno Retailleau said on Twitter that the ruling was “good news for freedom of worship”.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that a French church, unfairly blamed for spreading COVID-19, had received death threats.
The Christian Open Door Church held a conference attended by approximately 2,500 people in February, three weeks before large gatherings were banned. Following the conference, 29 attendees died and over 70 people became severely ill.
In an interview with the BBC, Pastor Samuel Peterschmitt revealed the threats included one person saying: “They must be shot with Kalashnikovs. We must burn the church.”
Peterschmitt added that the church has become a “scapegoat”, resulting in members being assaulted at work and receiving “nasty texts” from their neighbours.