Countries the world over have taken their governments to court over the forced closure of places of worship during the 2021 lockdown, and some have won.
In Chile, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Covid-19 restrictions had been applied in a ‘discriminatory manner’ against believers.
The ruling came at the start of Holy Week (2 March) and the court has asked the Chilean government to change its discriminatory regulations.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom International, which supported the legal organisation Comunidad y Justicia (CD), which filed legal challenges in all of Chile’s jurisdictions, the constitutionality of the government’s restrictions prevented people of faith from fully exercising their right to freedom of worship.
The Supreme Court agreed with CD, stating that it was a fundamental human right to exercise one’s faith freely, and no government could legally shut down churches and deny access for believers.
Tomás Henríquez, a Chilean lawyer and ADF’s director of advocacy for Latin America and the Caribbean, commented, ‘People of faith can rejoice. They now have the assurance that their right to exercise their faith freely will be protected.
‘The Court has clarified the freedom to worship in person is a fundamental right, worthy of the highest protection, and cannot simply be withheld.’
Hot on the heels of this decision came the victory in Scotland for a group of 27 church leaders, who argued the forced closure of places of worship was not only unconstitutional but also contradicted the guidance issued by Westminster, which allowed churches to remain open in 2021 for England and Wales.
The leaders came from the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), the Free Church of Scotland, the Church of Scotland, and a number of independent churches. In January, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made it a criminal offence for churches in the highest tiers to hold in person services and, for example, to conduct baptisms.
But in March, judge Lord Braid ruled that Holyrood’s decision to ban and criminalise gathered church worship during the current lockdown was unconstitutional and a disproportionate interference with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Elsewhere, action is being sought against extreme Covid-19 restrictions, which saw church buildings remain shut over Easter Week in other countries.
A blanket ban on gathered worship in the Republic of Ireland has been challenged in the courts. The ban has been in place for almost an entire year, even though supermarkets and hardware stores have been allowed to remain open with precautions in place.
Irish barrister Lorcan Price called Ireland’s restrictions the ‘most far-reaching and disproportionate in Europe’.
‘The blanket ban on all worship in Ireland is clearly disproportionate as can be seen by looking to the approach taken by almost every other European country.’