Uganda has imposed a blanket ban on people attending worship services because of the Covid crisis, but is allowing shopping malls and other commercial buildings to remain open.
Religious freedom agency ADF International is helping to challenge the ban in court, calling it ‘disproportionate and unnecessary’.
The Ugandan government introduced new regulations banning anyone from going to worship services during the pandemic.
At the same time, malls, arcades, and business centres have been allowed to remain open, with public transport functioning at 50 per cent capacity.
A church in Kampala is among those taking the legal action. Church member Agnes Namaganda said, ‘As a woman of faith, it’s been difficult to see my community deprived of access to public worship at a time when we need it most.
‘At this hard moment for our country, the government must remember that we don’t only have physical needs, but spiritual needs, too.
‘I’m glad to stand with my church, with support from ADF International, in challenging this disproportionate, unnecessary, and draconian restriction on freedom of worship.’
Sean Nelson is Legal Counsel for Global Religious Freedom at ADF International. He said, ‘Freedom of religion and belief is a foundational human right.
‘Freedom to manifest one’s faith in public worship is an essential part of this right, protected by Ugandan law and international treaties.
‘This right should be limited only to the extent that it is necessary for a legitimate, proportionate, and non-discriminatory reason.’
He added, ‘People of faith are no more contagious than their peers – there is no clear reason why a large, spacious church should be forced shut, but malls and arcades are open.
‘There is no clear reason why faith groups have had to clear higher operational hurdles throughout this year than places of commerce.
‘People of different faiths are now standing up to ensure that their rights are protected in Uganda.’
In March, Scotland’s top civil court found that a blanket ban on public worship was unlawful.
The Scottish ruling affirmed that any restrictions on fundamental freedoms must be necessary and proportionate.
One day after the Scottish ruling in March, the Chilean Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Covid-19 restrictions have been applied in a discriminatory manner against believers in Chile.
The landmark ruling recognised that freedom of religion is a human right that cannot simply be suspended.
Legal action is currently underway in Ireland, where for almost a year, people of faith faced criminal charges if they attended public worship.
Leaving one’s home to attend a worship service could have incurred a potential penalty of a fine or up to six months in prison.