COE

Restrictions on Religious Freedom in Europe in the Name of the Fight Against Covid-19

Covid/Europe: And Religious Freedom?

By ECLJ1604580652344

As of November 4, 2020, it appears from the study of more than 40 European countries that, in the vast majority of them, religious services are authorized, subject to compliance with health rules whose rigor varies greatly (physical distance, mask...).

The principle therefore remains that of the respect for the fundamental right to religious freedom, including freedom of worship, limited by strict health measures to protect the health of citizens.

Respect for religious freedom and public health can therefore be ensured, as is the case in most European countries, by maintaining an authorization in principle for religious ceremonies, accompanied by health restrictions to guarantee the health of European citizens.

Conversely, regarding the conduct of religious ceremonies, their general and absolute prohibition seriously infringes on religious freedom and often becomes discriminatory with regard to other gatherings, authorized despite the health situation.

Among the countries that maintain public religious ceremonies, two situations can be distinguished: countries with a more flexible lockdown than France and those with an equivalent lockdown. Some countries, such as Spain, Poland or the Netherlands, have never prohibited public worship, even during the first lockdown.

Here is a classification of the different European countries according to three main categories, from the freest to the most restrictive:

 

- Partial lockdown (or no lockdown), authorized religious services: Croatia, certain regions of Spain and Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Estonia, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden.

 

- Lockdown, authorized and regulated religious services: Austria, Germany, Slovenia, certain regions of Spain and Switzerland, and Ukraine.

 

- Lockdown, prohibited public religious services: France, Belgium, Great Britain and Ireland.

 

Most U.S. states fall into the first two categories (see this article).

Last update: November 16, 2020. If you have reliable new information or our information below is incorrect, please let us know: secretariat@eclj.org

 

Some elements by country

 

Austria

Second lockdown, with the introduction of a curfew and the closure of restaurants, hotels, cultural and sports institutions.

Churches and the state are in bilateral discussions; Catholic churches are self-limiting. Currently, masses are maintained, but without singing and with the wearing of masks. Since November 3, respect of a 1.5 m distance, which can be reduced for certain rites (communion).

The ministers took the opportunity to emphasize that religious practices are an element of "basic human needs" (see statements in this article).

 

Belgium

Lockdown: mandatory telework, prohibition to invite more than one person to your home, closure of non-essential businesses.

No public religious services before December 14, but churches remain open for individual prayer.

See the ministerial decision of October 28, 2020 establishing (at that time) the new stricter sanitary measures. Churches must remain open with a maximum number of 40 participants per "space" for each worship event.

See the ministerial decision of November 1, 2020 modifying the ministerial decision of October 28, 2020 establishing the (then) stricter (effective) measures. Prohibition of all public worship, with the exception of weddings and funerals, with a limited number of participants) These measures are applicable at least until December 13, 2020.

There is no explicit mention of religion/cult as such - the most relevant references are to the higher risk of transmission of the virus inherent in people gathering in closed spaces.

 

Bulgaria

The churches have not officially been closed, as confirmed by the Prime Minister. The faithful were encouraged to attend services online, but if they could travel to a nearby place of worship, many did. Religious communities renting halls or buildings were sometimes prevented from meeting, however. No lockdown. Masses with health instructions and protocols.

 

The Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is now in a state of emergency. However, public religious ceremonies are still permitted. Since October 12, 2020, all cultural and religious events are prohibited if they gather more than ten people indoors or twenty people outdoors, unless they are members of the same family. The participation of people in weddings and funerals is limited to 30 people. The social distance of at least 2 meters and the wearing of a face mask or equivalent must be respected. (Source: https://www.vlada.cz/en/media-centrum/aktualne/important-covid-19-measures-for-foreigners-183562/#31%20October)

 

Croatia

No re-lockdown.

Churches are open to mass (people must wear masks, be away from each other, communion in the hand is the norm). During the closure in March and April, there were no public masses, but for the time being, the government does not seem to want to move in that direction again.

 

Denmark

No lockdown. Religious services are allowed with sanitary instructions.

https://www.katolsk.dk/den-katolske-kirke-i-danmark/aktuelt/single-news/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=15856&cHash=16a34c891338998abc393d984d6670da

 

Estonia

Gatherings and events are permitted both indoors and outdoors. However, a reasonable distance between people must be maintained and the requirement not to exceed 50% of the capacity of the site must be respected. (Source: https://www.katoliku.ee/index.php/en/component/content/featured)

 

Finland

No lockdown. Religious services are allowed with sanitary instructions.

https://katolinen.fi/covid-19/   

 

Germany

From November 2, bars, sports halls and cultural venues will be closed for one month. No distance limit for travel.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime ministers of the Bundesländer stressed that freedom of religion is a fundamental right.

Restrictions are made at the state level, and access to churches is sometimes subject to prior online registration. For the time being it appears that the Länder have not banned religious gatherings.

Germany thus distinguishes worship from other types of gatherings, as it is the object of a fundamental freedom. See in particular the decision of 29 April 2020 of the German Constitutional Court, denouncing the violation of religious freedom following the prohibition of worship during the first lockdown.

 

Greece

With a "partial" lockdown, untill November, 30, religious services are held but without the faithful. Funerals are open to 9 faithful only (Source: Orthodoxtimes.com).

 

Hungary

Places of worship remain open and religious ceremonies are permitted. Funerals are possible within the limit of 50 persons and weddings within the limit of very close family. Masses are still possible, but the government limits all events and meetings to 10 people. For now it is unclear if it concerns masses. New regulations will be soon provided by the National Assembly. Wearing a mask and a social distance of 2 meters is recommended (Source: Origo.hu and MagyarKurir.hu).

Update Nov. 17: Religious worships can be held based on the decision of the religious community, and the 10 people limit does not apply to such worships. The Catholic Church decided to celebrate masses; the Reformed Church decided to hold only online services. 

 

Iceland

Weekly religious ceremonies are allowed within the limit of 20 people per place of worship, despite partial lockdown.

 

Ireland

Public worship in the Republic of Ireland has been suspended nationwide since October 7 as part of 'level 3' of the plan to fight against Covid-19. Ireland is now under level 5 restrictions, the highest level. It is not clear from the law implementing those restrictions whether or not a minister of religion could be prosecuted for holding an act of public worship.

 

Italy

Places of worship remain open and the faithful are allowed to participate in religious ceremonies. However, several restrictions apply: social distancing, mandatory wearing of masks, no physical contact. 

 

Kosovo

Gatherings of more than five persons in squares, parks and other public places remain prohibited, as do other large gatherings including weddings, seminars, workshops and family parties. However, religious ceremonies are still permitted as long as they are in accordance with the Government’s Manual for the protection against the spread of COVID-19. (Source: PrishtinaInsight.com)

 

Latvia

Religious ceremonies are permitted and the faithful may attend them. Since October 14, 2020, a limit of 30 people is imposed for private indoor events and the wearing of masks is mandatory if the faithful do not have fixed and assigned seats. Olga Zeile, director of the industrial policy department of the Latvian Ministry of Justice, later clarified that the 30-person limit does not apply to religious ceremonies because it does not fall under this legal category. The maximum number of people attending ceremonies for public events is 300. Finally, the place of worship must only be occupied to half its capacity.  (Source: https://www.leta.lv/eng/home/important/3E449BF0-4A9F-45E4-9274-0F16F0E5F611/ https://bnn-news.com/ministry-restrictions-on-public-gatherings-will-not-apply-to-church-services-218068)

 

Lithuania

Religious ceremonies are always permitted and the faithful may attend them. On November 3, 2020, 13 municipalities moved to the "red zone" and tightened health restrictions to combat the spread of Covid-19. In these "red zones" religious communities are "advised" to suspend ceremonies or avoid generating large crowds (Source: https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1267705/lithuania-adds-13-municipalities-to-coronavirus-red-zone).

 

Luxembourg

Religious ceremonies are allowed and take place in the presence of the faithful. The Archbishop of Luxembourg, Mgr Jean-Claude Hollerich has renounced the traditional blessing of the tombs of All Saints to avoid crowds in the cemeteries. However, on Monday, November 2, he celebrated a mass in the cathedral. Several restrictions apply however: this ceremony was accessible upon prior registration, the wearing of masks and social distancing had to be respected.

 

Northern Macedonia

No reliable information found.

 

Malta

Religious ceremonies are allowed. A strict sanitary protocol has been put in place. Thanks to social distancing and the wearing of masks and a limited number of worshippers, to date, no contamination or clusters have occurred during religious ceremonies. (Source: https://mt.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/)

 

Moldova

Religious ceremonies had been banned in April 2020, but the bans had not been followed by many prelates. It appears that now religious ceremonies are still permitted.

 

Montenegro

The Serbian Orthodox Church has for several months been fighting the government on issues of religious property and autonomy. Religious gatherings outside or outside places of worship are prohibited. Religious ceremonies are still possible, but the government recommends that congregants not physically attend ceremonies. Wearing masks and social distancing are also mandatory. (Source: https://www.total-montenegro-news.com/news/5949-measures-and-recommendations-health-and-travel-update-november-2-2020

 

Netherlands

The Government did not impose a decision but made an agreement with the churches: Public religious ceremonies remain permitted. They decided that as of October 5, the number of participants in a ceremony would be limited to 30 people per place of worship and that singing, which could lead to infection, is prohibited.

 

Norway

Public religious ceremonies are allowed within the limit of 200 people present. A strict sanitary protocol must be observed according to government requirements. (Distanciation, shielding gestures, etc. Source: Fhi.no)

 

Poland

Religious ceremonies are always open to the faithful and have never been forbidden. Restrictions on the number of congregants and distancing measures were taken. Access to cemeteries was prohibited on All Saints' Day to prevent overcrowding.

 

Portugal

Restrictive measures are in place as part of a semi-lockdown applied across the country: places of worship remain open at all times and the number of worshippers to attend services is reduced to ¼ or ⅓ of the building's normal capacity. The faithful must be separated by 2 square meters, unless they belong to the same family.

 

Romania

On October 5, 2020, the Romanian National Committee for Emergency Situations decided to ban pilgrimages. Public religious ceremonies are still allowed and access is simply limited to local populations. Wearing a mask is mandatory and a social distancing of at least 1.5m is compulsory in places of worship (Source: Romania-Insider.com)

On November 5, 2020, the Romanian President, Ludovic Orban, implemented very severe health restrictions for 30 days, including the closure of schools and a curfew. The Government did not specify specific rules for religious services, but it seems increasingly difficult to attend worship. (Source: MediaFax.ro)

 

Spain

Spain has never banned public religious celebrations at the national level. During the first lockdown, decisions were made at the level of each diocese.

On Sunday, October 25, 2020, the government declared a state of health emergency throughout the country. The Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, announced a curfew throughout the country (except the Canary Islands) from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am, with the possibility for regions to advance or delay its beginning by one hour. Regarding religious practice, the decree leaves to the competent authorities, that is the dioceses for Catholics, the autonomy to set the rules, taking into account the risks of contamination: "The presence of people in places of worship is limited by the determination, by the competent authority, of the capacity of reception for religious celebrations and meetings, taking into account the risk of transmission that could result from collective meetings. This limitation may in no case affect the private and individual exercise of religious freedom."

Currently, places of worship can accommodate worshippers up to 50% of their normal capacity, and only up to 30% of their capacity in some areas where the curfew is more strict.

 

Serbia

The situation is a priori similar to that of Montenegro.

 

Slovakia

In the spring, during the first wave, all religious gatherings were banned for a few weeks, as part of the fight against Covid-19.

In order to test the entire population in one weekend (3.5 million people were tested), a complete lockdown was imposed. Now that this test has been carried out, religious ceremonies are again possible with a limit of only 6 people, clergy included. This limitation seems to be questionable with regard to the rule applicable to shops, which imposes a maximum of one person per 15 m². Thus a cathedral should be able to accommodate more faithful according to this rule.

 

Slovenia

Slovenia went into a serious epidemic situation on October 19, 2020. Religious ceremonies are not prohibited but very limited to only 6 people.

 

Sweden

Public religious ceremonies are allowed within the limit of 50 people present and a social distance of one meter (Source: Folkhalsomyndigheten.se)

 

Switzerland

Several restrictive decisions were taken in recent days and it would appear that religious services are suspended everywhere now. In principle, such decisions are made at the cantonal level and vary greatly from canton to canton. The canton of Geneva is now semi-confined. The canton of Neuchâtel strictly prohibits public religious ceremonies. In Fribourg, Jura and Valais, public religious ceremonies may be still allowed with limitations. On 13 November, the Valais Grand Council agreed to relax the limit of 10 people for religious ceremonies from 1 December. Health protocols also differ but apply everywhere. (Sources: rts.ch & LeMatin.ch

 

Turkey

Wearing a mask is mandatory almost everywhere. No other information.

 

Ukraine

Religious ceremonies are allowed. The government allows excursions and pilgrimages for groups of up to 50 people, as well as indoor religious ceremonies, at a rate of 1 person per 5 square meters and provided that visitors maintain a social distance of 1.5 meters. (Source: https://covid19.gov.ua/en/)

 

United Kingdom

As of November 5, public religious ceremonies are prohibited. Churches may remain open for individual prayers.

Funerals and weddings are permitted to a limited number of people. Several prelates have spoken out against this, including Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, who said he "sees no evidence at this time" that justify such a ban (Source: Cruxnow.com)

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, religious ceremonies are still permitted and open to the faithful for the time being. In Wales, on the other hand, public religious ceremonies are banned and the police have already intervened to stop a service.

 

United States of America

Prolonged closure of prayer halls would be a serious and clear violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The Dioceses of Brooklyn and San Francisco are conducting legal proceedings to that effect.

With the exception of a few states that prohibit public religious ceremonies or discriminate against certain churches, most states have provided religious exceptions to the lockdown, and attendance to religious ceremonies remains permitted. Again, health protocol varies in each state but exists virtually everywhere (Source: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/27/most-states-have-religious-exemptions-to-covid-19-social-distancing-rules/ ).

Interactive map of religious freedom in the United States: https://www.becketlaw.org/covid-19-religious-worship/

For example, the state of New Jersey is currently one of the most restrictive states in terms of authorizing religious ceremonies. It limits gatherings of this nature to either 150 people or 25% of the building's normal capacity, the lowest value applying. The faithful must wear masks and stand approximately 2 meters (6 feet) apart. (Source: https://covid19.nj.gov/faqs/nj-information/reopening-guidance-and-restrictions/are-churches-and-other-houses-of-worship-offering-services-what-are-the-social-distancing-requirements#direct-link)

Outdoor gatherings are permitted. (Source: Executive Order No. 161.)

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