Churches in the United Kingdom have suffered some of the most stringent and discriminatory constraints in Europe as a result of COVID-19, a study has found.
The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) classified the United Kingdom as one of the most restrictive countries on the continent because of its prohibition of public religious services during times of lockdown.
According to the study “respect for religious freedom and public health” had been maintained in most European countries.
However, the Republic of Ireland, France, Belgium and the United Kingdom were all found to have consistently “prohibited public religious services” during times of lockdown.
In the judgment of the ECLJ, banning religious ceremonies “seriously infringes on religious freedom and often becomes discriminatory with regard to other gatherings, authorized despite the health situation.”
Up to 16 November, some countries such as Spain, Poland and the Netherlands were observed to have “never prohibited public worship”.
The report said that in the vast majority of countries “religious services are authorized, subject to compliance with health rules”.
It stated that in Norway public religious ceremonies are permitted with an upper limit for attendees, as long as ‘COVID-19-regulations’ are followed.
In Austria, the study said that there is no upper limit to the number of worshippers that may attend a church service, but social distancing of 1.5 metres is required and masks must be worn.
The ECLJ concluded that both religious freedom and public health could be protected if respect for the “fundamental right” to religious freedom and worship is accompanied by “strict health measures” to protect citizens.