A Swiss court has suspended a ban on public worship in the city of Geneva, which was regarded as one of the broadest measures restricting public religious gatherings in Europe.
The ban began on Nov. 2 as an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. While churches were permitted to remain open for private prayer, all religious services—besides small funerals and weddings—were prohibited.
On Nov. 27, local religious leaders issued a joint statement expressing “deep regret” that authorities had failed to relax the measures governing public worship, yet other public gatherings were allowed to take place.
Steve Alder, a Geneva-based lawyer, filed suit, citing religious discrimination.
“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,” he said. “It disproportionately targets the activities of religious groups over commercial activities.”
On Dec. 3, the Constitutional Chamber of the Canton of Geneva issued an order halting the ban, noting that authorities had failed to demonstrate that places of worship were responsible for COVID-19 outbreaks in the area.
“The suspension of the ban until the court makes a final decision is a significant step in the right direction,” said Jennifer Lea, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom International. “This ban is a serious violation of the fundamental rights Switzerland is committed to protect in a number of international human rights agreements.
“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 added. “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.”
As a result of the Dec. 3 order, public religious services can resume in the city of Geneva until the court hands down its final judgment on the ban.
Above: A street in Geneva, Switzerland, with the tower of St. Pierre Cathedral in the distance.
Photo: Mehdi33300/Alamy Stock Photo