France’s supreme court for administrative justice has ruled that the government’s absolute ban on religious gatherings in hopes of stopping the spread of COVID-19 is unlawful and ordered the government to relax restrictions on religious worship.
In a ruling Monday, the French Council of State reasoned that “the general and absolute prohibition [on religious gatherings] is disproportionate” when the government has allowed gatherings of fewer than 10 people for secular instances.
According to France 24, the ruling gives the Macron government eight days to lift the outright ban on worship gatherings.
France’s current policy bans all gatherings in places of worship except for funerals, which are limited to just 20 people. The government had previously indicated that religious services would be banned until June 2.
The Council of State ruled the government’s policy “constitutes a serious and manifest violation of the freedom of worship.”
It is unclear what kind of policy will be enacted as a response to the ruling. But BBC reports that a judge ordered that all private gatherings of up to 10 people to be allowed.
The council’s ruling followed complaints from several organizations and individuals.
“The decision of the Council of State to order the lifting of the ban on assembly in places of worship is good news for freedom of worship which is a fundamental right,” tweeted Sen. Bruno Retailleau, leader of the right-wing Republicans.
According to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, France has had over 181,000 confirmed coronavirus cases with over 28,000 virus-related deaths.
An outbreak of coronavirus occurred in February and an international evangelical church conference was blamed for sparking what was the country’s largest cluster of COVID-19 cases.
The annual prayer meeting at the Christian Open Door Church in the border city of Mulhouse near the German border in mid-February has been linked to thousands of COVID-19 cases.
France is in the process of relaxing its coronavirus lockdown policies. Likewise, all U.S. states that ordered a lockdown are also in the process of lifting their COVID-19 restrictions.
While some churches in the U.S. are considering whether to reopen their in-person services, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control warned this week that faith organizations looking to resume activities “should be aware of the potential for high rates of transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”
“These organizations should work with local health officials to determine how to implement the U.S. Government’s guidelines for modifying activities during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent transmission of the virus to their members and their communities," the CDC advised in a recent report.
Some churches that have already reopened their in-person services have made the decision to again halt in-person services after members and leaders tested positive for the coronavirus after reopening.
One such church is the Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle in Ringgold, Georgia, a state that began to reopen some businesses starting on April 24.
The Washington Post notes that the Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston, Texas, made a similar decision to halt in-person services after some members were infected following the church’s reopening on May 2.