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Critics attack differing policies on public worship in Germany and France

06 November 2020


A deserted Friedrich-Ebert-Straße, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin, this week

A deserted Friedrich-Ebert-Straße, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin, this week

GERMANY and France have taken different approaches to public worship during a second lockdown, imposed on both countries in response to rising infection rates.

Berlin this week imposed a month-long strict, nationwide, circuit-breaker lockdown — but church services have been exempted from these regulations. The result has been an outcry from secular organisations.

While theatres, opera houses, concert halls, cinemas, museums, and gyms have closed, restaurants are allowed to serve only takeaways and hotels may accommodate only business guests, religious services may still take place.

The Lutheran Bishop of Bavaria, and chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, justified the exemption because freedom of religion was enshrined in German law.

Church services were important in the Covid crisis, he said: “The soul must be strengthened, especially now. People should be given an inner strength these days, combined with the message of the approaching Christmas festive season, ‘Do not be afraid.’”

Artistic directors of theatres and cultural practitioners have reacted with incomprehension and criticism to the renewed closure of their establishments, while churches may remain open.

“It can be proven that no one in the auditorium of a theatre has contracted the coronavirus there,” the artistic director of the Frankfurt Opera, Bernd Loebe, said.

The artistic director of the Munich Kammerspiele, Barbara Mundel, said: “We could move into the churches in Bavaria with the arts, and simply say that theatre is a church service.”

In France, the RC Bishops’ Conference announced on Monday that it would file an urgent appeal to the government, arguing that the inclusion of church services in the countrywide lockdown “violates the freedom of worship, which is one of the fundamental freedoms in our country”.

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