A court in Switzerland has halted a ban on religious gatherings in the midst of some of Europe's strongest COVID-19 restrictions, at least for the time being.
The ruling came down last week, the Catholic News Agency reports. Public religious services can resume in the city of Geneva until the court hands down its final judgment on the ban.
Challengers brought forth the case after Geneva brought in the restrictions on November 1 in hopes of halting the spread of COVID-19. Local authorities said at the time that public worship gatherings were partially responsible for the spread of the virus. A number of religious leaders in the city signed a letter in late November expressing "deep regret" over the ban.
“Enforcing (the ban) is a violation of the right to freedom of religion as protected in the Swiss Constitution and by international human rights standards," Steve Alder, the lawyer who filed the case, says. "It disproportionately targets the activities of religious groups over commercial activities.”
The ban halted all public worship gatherings except for funerals and weddings, which had strict limits on the numbers of attendance.
“With multiple religious groups in Geneva voicing their concerns over the disproportionality of the ban, we hope that the authorities will ultimately agree on a solution that protects everyone’s right to practice their religion in line with international law," Alder says. "The suspension of the ban is a welcome step in this direction."
After the suspension was announced the Catholic Church in Geneva said that public Masses would be limited to 50 people and respect measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 such as social distancing and the wearing of masks.
Jennifer Lea, legal counsel for the human rights group ADF International, which supported the legal challenge, described the suspension as “a significant step in the right direction," according to CNA.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and governments seeking to restrict it carry the burden of proving the restriction is truly necessary and that a less restrictive approach would not work,” she says.
“Favoring commercial establishments over religious services is not only discriminatory but ignores the robust protection that exists in national and international law for religious freedom.”