'Let us worship': Church, Muslim sue Ugandan gov’t over ‘draconian’ COVID-19 worship ban

A church bell hangs from a tree branch outside a Catholic church and a school in Odek village, Uganda.
A church bell hangs from a tree branch outside a Catholic church and a school in Odek village, Uganda. | REUTERS/JAMES AKENA

A congregation and a representative of an Islamic community have filed a lawsuit against the Republic of Uganda over pandemic lockdown restrictions that have halted in-person worship.

ADF International, a partner organization to the United States-based Alliance Defending Freedom, announced their litigation against the Ugandan government on Thursday.

At issue are lockdown measures enacted last week that, while allowing secular entities to remain open and public transportation to be at 50% capacity, nevertheless banned houses of worship from meeting in-person.

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Agnes Namaganda, a member of the Christian fellowship supporting the legal challenge, said in a statement included in the announcement that the measures were “draconian.”

“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,” Namaganda said.

“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.”

Imaam Bbaale Muhammed, who is part of the litigation, said in comments included in the announcement that he believed “participating in public worship is as essential as taking food and water.”

“Why are people of faith being treated as more contagious than others?” Muhammed asked. “Of course, it is vitally important to keep our communities safe at this time. This can and must be done while also upholding the right to gather for worship.”

In response to an increase in COVID-19 cases, long-serving Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni enacted strict lockdown measures.

Considered one of the African continent’s tightest limits, the initial lockdown included closing businesses and schools, as well as prohibiting the use of private and public vehicles.

Last Friday, Museveni announced an easing of the restrictions, allowing for the opening of businesses and other entities, as well as vehicle transportation albeit with limits on passengers.

In his televised address, the Ugandan president explained that the easing of restrictions came after he considered the “economic considerations for the country” and a decline in cases.  

“During the period of the lockdown data generated by the ministry of health has shown a consistent reduction in daily confirmed cases,” said Museveni, as reported by Reuters.

Around 1.1 million Ugandans have had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Reuters, while as of July 28 there were more than 93,000 recorded cases of coronavirus and over 2,600 deaths.

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