France’s State Council, the country’s highest court, has ordered the government to review a law limiting the attendance at religious services to 30. In a statement released on November 29, the said restriction was not proportionate to Coronavirus infection risks, reports Reuters.
France went into a second nationwide lockdown from October 30 to December 1. Two days before the end of the lockdown, the government allowed shops selling non-essential goods to re-open. However, the 30-people cap on religious services was not lifted, regardless of the size of the church.
The claimants are right in saying that the measure is disproportionate in light of protecting the public’s health…thus it is a serious and illegal infringement on the freedom of worship. —France’s State Council
Catholic organizations cried foul to the restriction on places of worship, saying churches and cathedrals are more spacious than retail stores. They proposed allowing churches to use 30% of its seating capacity during worship services.
The bishop of Nanterre, Matthieu Rouge, compared the church restriction to the protest rallies in Paris. About 5,000 people gathered to the country’s capital to protest a proposed security bill that would make it illegal to record and identify police officers with the intent to “harm their physical or psychological integrity.”
“When you see the images of yesterday’s demonstration with this tightly packed crowd, and think that in large churches there can only be 30 people, it’s absurd,” said the bishop.
The Council agreed with the Catholic organizations. It said, “The claimants are right in saying that the measure is disproportionate in light of protecting the public’s health…thus it is a serious and illegal infringement on the freedom of worship.”
Meantime, the French government denied that it favors businesses over places of worship when it comes to implementing health restrictions. Pascale Leglise, an Interior Ministry representative, disclosed that France is “not the only country” to have adopted the said measure, reports France 24.
“In a store, people pass by, don’t talk to each other, don’t sit next to each other,” Leglise argued.
The Conference of French Bishops welcomed the Council’s ruling. The organization would meet with French Prime Minister Jean Castex to discuss other means to lower the risk of Coronavirus transmission during church services.