France and Germany: Blanket bans on meeting in places of worship
This case revolves around whether complete bans on meeting in places of worship were necessary and proportionate.
Themes: Freedom of religion or belief, legitimate limitations, public health grounds, COVID-19
In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government of Germany announced that, “gatherings in churches, mosques, synagogues as well as gatherings of other religious communities are to be banned.” In effect, this introduced a blanket ban on meeting in places of worship.
Similar wide-ranging restrictions were imposed by France in the form of restrictions on freedom of movement and a decree which suspended religious ceremonies which amounted to a blanket ban on meetings in places of worship. Gatherings in other types of public places were limited to 10 people.
In this case all religious communities were treated equally. This case resolves around whether complete bans on meeting in places of worship were necessary and proportionate. You may wish to mention the following in connection with the group’s report back to explain what happened in this case.
In response to an appeal by a local Muslim association, which planned to hold Friday prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan for a limited number of worshippers, the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled to lift the blanket ban six weeks after it was imposed. The Court held that legislation should enable exceptions to be granted in certain cases if sufficient precautions were taken.
The highest court in France, the Conseil d’État, ruled to lift the ban two months later, in response to an appeal by twelve Catholic organisations. The Conseil held that as gatherings in public places had been limited to 10 persons, there was no reason to impose a stricter rule on religious buildings. The French Conseil d’État found that the blanket ban was “disproportionate to the objective of preserving public health”.
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ‘OSCE Human Dimension Commitments and State Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic 2020’ report
The Conversation 9 April 2020