France must review COVID-19 crowd limits on church attendance

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PARIS (Reuters) – The French Council of State, the country’s highest court, on Sunday ordered the government to revise a law limiting the number of people in churches during religious services to 30.

FILE PHOTO: Worshipers attend mass at Saint-François-Xavier Church, as French churches reopen for religious gatherings after the government rolled back its ban, amid the coronavirus outbreak (COVID- 19), in Paris, France, May 24, 2020. REUTERS / Christian Hartmann / File Photo

The Council said in a statement that the measure was not proportionate to the risks of coronavirus infection.

Last week, the government announced that a nationwide lockdown in place since October 30 would be lifted in stages.

Stores selling non-essentials were allowed to reopen from November 28 and indoor religious services were allowed to resume, but worshipers were capped at 30 regardless of the size of the place of worship. .

Catholic organizations have challenged the limit, arguing that churches and cathedrals are much more spacious than outlets, where the limit is one person per eight square meters.

“The plaintiffs are right to say that the measure is disproportionate with regard to the protection of public health … therefore it is a serious and illegal violation of the freedom of worship,” the council said.

The French Bishops’ Conference welcomed the decision and said it will meet with French Prime Minister Jean Castex later Sunday to discuss new rules to limit the risk of coronavirus infection during church services.

“No other activity is limited by such a limitation regardless of the area,” he said.

Catholic organizations propose to allow churches to use 30% of their capacity.

On the first Sunday after a month-long lockdown, French churches reopened for the first time with Advent services on the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

At the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris, a sign at the entrance said “space limited to 30 people”, but there was no control over the number of people who could enter and around 50 to 60 people, all masked, took part in the service, seated in widely spaced chairs.

“I’m so happy to be back. It’s sad to see such a large church so empty, but it’s better than watching Mass on television, ”said Jean-Baptiste Jeulin, engineer.

His fellow worshiper Jean-Paul Lauras, a retiree, said the 30-person rule was incomprehensible.

“Catholics, but no doubt also Protestants, Jews and Muslims, perceive this measure as very inconsiderate. It’s a form of disdain, ”he says.

Report by Gilles Guillaume and Antony Paone; Written by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Alex Richardson

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