France’s State Council, the country’s highest court, ordered the government on Sunday to review a COVID-19 rule limiting the number of people allowed in churches. The Council stated that the law, which restricts religious services to a maximum of 30 people, is not proportionate to coronavirus infection risks.
France has been in a nationwide lockdown since October 30 due to an increase in coronavirus infections in the country. Last week, the government began to remove some restrictions, allowing non-essential stores to reopen and indoor religious services to resume. However, the government maintained a 30 person limit on the number of worshipers permitted in the churches. The rule applies to all places of worship, regardless of the size.
Catholic organizations challenged the government’s order on religious services. They argued to the Council that churches and cathedrals are more spacious than the non-essential retail stores, which were permitted to reopen with a limit of one person per eight square meters. They also proposed that places of worship should be allowed to reopen with 30% capacity. The French government denied that the restriction unfairly targeted the Catholic churches. Pascale Leglise, an Interior Ministry representative, reasoned that France was “not the only country” that has adopted this type of measure.
The Council agreed with the Catholic organizations, stating that the government’s “measure is disproportionate in light of protecting the public’s health.” The Council added that the restriction “is a serious and illegal infringement on the freedom of worship.” The Conference of French Bishops and fellow worshipers were pleased with the Council’s order.
Following the Council’s order, religious representatives stated that they would meet with the French Prime Minister Jean Castex to consider new rules. The new rules will limit?the risk of coronavirus infections during religious services while still protecting the freedom of worship.