Landmark case on ‘illiberal’ Covid worship ban brought to European Court

The European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France (PHOTO: The Christian Institute)

Originally published by The Christian Institute

The ban on public worship in Slovakia during the coronavirus pandemic was a violation of religious freedom, the European Court of Human Rights has heard.

Dr Ján Figeľ, a former EU Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, told the Court that the Slovak Republic’s prohibition of religious services due to Covid-19 was unlawful.

Other challenges against lockdown restrictions on public worship during the pandemic have been upheld in other national and local European courts, including ScotlandFrance and Germany.

‘Basic human right’
Dr Figeľ argued: “Religious freedom as a basic human right deserves the highest level of protection. Prohibiting people from worship and communal religious exercise is profoundly illiberal and illegitimate. Worship bans were unfair and disproportionate.

“Our arguments submitted to the court demonstrate clearly that blanket bans are violations of religious freedom under international human rights law”.

Dr Adina Portaru, senior counsel for religious liberty group Alliance Defending Freedom, said that “the way in which the Court is going to deal with this case will set the precedent” for 46 European countries in how they are going “to deal with religious freedom in times of crisis”.

In 2021, the Court of Session ruled that the Scottish Government’s ban on public worship during the pandemic was unlawful.

The regulations which required churches to close across mainland Scotland had been challenged by 27 church leaders, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, who said the restrictions were a breach of their freedom of religion.

Court of Session judge Lord Braid agreed, ruling that the regulations “constitute a disproportionate interference” into people’s freedom to manifest their religious beliefs, and that they “went further than they were lawfully able to do”.

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