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Courts in US and France challenge worship curbs

04 December 2020

Limits on numbers at services deemed to be disproportionate


A Catholic Mass is organised on the street in Paris last week in protest against the closure of churches during the coronavirus lockdown

A Catholic Mass is organised on the street in Paris last week in protest against the closure of churches during the coronavirus lockdown

RESTRICTIONS on the number permitted to attend a church service in France and the United States have been challenged in the courts.

The State Council, highest court of France, has ordered a review of the limit of 30 which was imposed after a strict lockdown ended last week and non-essential shops and indoor religious services were allowed to resume.

Under these regulations, attendance at services was capped at 30 people, regardless of the size of the church building. In retail outlets, however, the limit is one person per eight square metres.

The Roman Catholic Church in France, challenging the regulation, argued that it was disproportionate. The Council ruled on Sunday: “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.” It ordered an immediate review of the 30-person limit.

In the United States, the RC diocese of Brooklyn and an Orthodox Jewish group, the Agudath Israel of America, challenged New York’s restrictions on places of worship, which limit attendance to ten to 25 people, depending on “zones” in the city.

The Supreme Court ruled last week for the faith groups. “Members of this court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,” the court said in its ruling. “The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty. . .

“The regulations cannot be viewed as neutral because they single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment. They are far more restrictive than any Covid–related regulations that have previously come before the Court, much tighter than those adopted by many other jurisdictions hard-hit by the pandemic, and far more severe than has been shown to be required to prevent the spread of the virus at the applicants’ services.”

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