Catholic Launches Legal Challenge to Ireland’s Ban on Public Worship

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Businessman Declan Ganley is challenging the ban on attending religious services under anti-virus restrictions, insisting that the right to practice one’s faith is guaranteed by the Irish constitution.

Level 5 restrictions introduced last month prohibit citizens from leaving their home to attend worship services, which Mr Ganley insists is a violation of religious freedom guaranteed under Irish law.

Ganley has launched judicial review proceedings against the Minister for Health with Ireland and the Attorney General as notice parties, the Irish Times reported Friday.

Ganley seeks declarations that the government regulations are incompatible with various articles of the Constitution, including Article 44 where the State acknowledges the right of persons to freely practice their religion.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan, who is examining the case, said on Friday there is little likelihood of the case being heard by the end of the month given its complexity.

The judge adjourned the matter to December 8 when the case can be reassessed.

Earlier this week, UK faith leaders called on the British government to allow public worship during the lockdown, insisting that such worship is “essential.”

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishop of London, along with the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster and other faith leaders raised “profound concerns at the forthcoming restriction measures to be introduced in England on Thursday 5th November 2020.”

While the bishops acknowledged that the country faces “significant challenges” requiring new measures in response, they said they “strongly disagree with the decision to suspend public worship during this time.”

“We have had reaffirmed, through the bitter experience of the last six months, the critical role that faith plays in moments of tremendous crisis, and we believe public worship is essential,” they declared.

“We have demonstrated, by our action, that places of worship and public worship can be made safe from Covid transmission,” they stated. “Given the significant work we have already done, we consider there to be, now, no scientific justification for the wholesale suspension of public worship.”

Similarly, the President of the French Bishops’ Conference said this week that suspending the public celebration of sacraments “undermines religious liberty,” one of the fundamental freedoms in the country.

Reims Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort filed an appeal with the Council of State asking that “disproportionate” anti-coronavirus measures imposed within the framework of the state of emergency be lifted.

The archbishop said that that public worship and the sacraments are “vital” for the spiritual life of the faithful, because they are an encounter with the Lord and with their brothers and sisters.

The archbishop also insisted the Catholic Church had complied fully with other measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus from the outset of the pandemic.

An October 29 decree by the French government prescribes new measures to deal with the coronavirus epidemic, including the suspension of all public acts of worship.

Five other bishops also filed appeals to the same Council of State, noting the irony that Catholics have been forbidden from going to Mass, “even though schools, supermarkets, and public transport remain open.”

In a column published by Le Figaro newspaper, Dominique Rey, bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, Marc Aillet, bishop of Bayonne, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, bishop of Avignon, David Macaire, bishop of Fort-de-France and Bernard Ginoux, bishop of Montauban said they regret the government’s considered opinion that the fundamental freedom of worship is not an “essential activity.”


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