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Complaint to European court over ban on church services amid pandemic

Photo TASR, Martin Baumann

Former EU religious freedom envoy Jan Figel has filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) over the ban on church services during the corona pandemic.

This was announced by ADF International, an organisation that advocates for religious freedom, on Wednesday. The agency supports Figel in the case.

The ban on holding worship services is a "disproportionate infringement of the right to religious freedom", Figel argues in his lawsuit aimed at the government in Slovakia. ADF International argues that this is the first time corona restrictions on churches have been reviewed by the ECHR.

In February 2021, the Slovak government ruled that cultural events, sports events and religious services could not be held. Exceptions were made for baptismal services and weddings, with a maximum of six people.

This ban on church services was not in line with the Slovak constitution and fundamental rights, Figel claims. "Religious freedom as a fundamental human right should be given the highest form of protection. Everyone has the right to live according to their beliefs. Banning people from doing so is very illiberal and undemocratic." Figel argues that elsewhere in Europe, there was more room to hold church services.

Rulings by national judges in countries like Germany and France have shown that banning the holding of worship services is a violation of religious freedom, Figel argues.

Figel also believes that the EU cannot credibly promote religious freedom elsewhere in the world if EU member states themselves "do not respect fundamental freedoms at home".

Figel is joined by ADF International. "Fundamental freedoms apply to everyone, and especially in times of crisis, they must be protected rather than weakened," argues Dr Adina Portaru, senior adviser at the organisation. According to her, this certainly applies to church services as well. "It is unfair to pit religious freedom against security when both can work harmoniously.

Communal worship services are, for many people, an essential part of staying the course in times of crisis. And this can be done safely and carefully, in accordance with necessary and well-considered restrictions," said Portaru.

Figel receives support from churches and various organisations in Slovakia. Roman Catholic Figel was a special envoy for religious freedom for the European Union from 2016 to 2019.


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