Et Tu, France? Appeals Court Orders an End to COVID Ban on Religious Gatherings May 19, 2020

Et Tu, France? Appeals Court Orders an End to COVID Ban on Religious Gatherings

For a modern country that’s built on the principle of laïcité (secularism), this is surprising:

The French Council of State ruled Monday that a ban on religious gatherings in the country is a disproportionate response to the coronavirus pandemic, and ordered the government to lift the ban within eight days.

The Council of State (Conseil d’État) is France’s supreme court for administrative justice. The judges hear claims against “federal” administrative decisions including orders and rules issued by the executive branch.

The BBC reports that

Currently, all gatherings in places of worship are banned except for funerals, which are limited to 20 people. …

The Council of State ruled the ban was “disproportionate in nature” and caused “damage that was seriously and manifestly illegal“.

It’s hard to understand just what that damage is, and why the hurry, considering that

France is currently in the middle of relaxing its lockdown rules while trying to ensure the country does not experience a second wave of cases. Religious leaders had been told not to organize services until 2 June.

So the Council of State pushed that timetable by one week. It doesn’t make a world of difference, but an extra week of prudence is better than a premature relaxing of public-health measures that have been shown to work.

Caution with church gatherings should be virtually ingrained by now, given the role that religious get-togethers played in France during the early stages of the corona-crisis. In February, the country had a superspreader event in the form of a five-day evangelical megachurch meeting in Mulhouse, a city of 110,000 close to the German and Swiss borders. The most popular sessions had 2,500 attendees, and during opening hours there were never fewer than a thousand people in the religious complex.

According to Reuters,

The prayer meeting kicked off the biggest cluster of COVID-19 in France — one of northern Europe’s hardest-hit countries — to date, local government said. Around 2,500 confirmed cases have been linked to it. Worshippers at the church have unwittingly taken the disease caused by the virus home to the West African state of Burkina Faso, to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, to Guyana in Latin America, to Switzerland, to a French nuclear power plant, and into the workshops of one of Europe’s biggest automakers.

The Council of State opinion is unappealable. One week from today at the latest, French church services may resume.

C’est dommage, ça.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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