Religious Freedom During the COVID-19 Global Pandemic: The United Kingdom

Religious Freedom During the COVID-19 Global Pandemic: The United Kingdom

Abstract: The COVID pandemic has created novel legal issues involving the interplay between a government’s legitimate aim in promoting and safeguarding public health and its obligation to respect religious freedom. Never in the history of the modern Human Rights era have governments, or the courts, had to deal with the balancing of these competing interests on such a widescale. The closure of churches for collective worship and limitations on other elements of religious exercise are clearly interferences with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Mandatory vaccination requirements would similarly have an impact on religious freedom and personal autonomy. As these rights are qualified rights, governments can only justify such interferences by showing that they served a legitimate aim, were necessary in a democratic society and were a proportionately tailored means of achieving their goal. The following study will analyse the situation in the United Kingdom on both the question of church closures and vaccine mandates. In doing so, it will also closely follow the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and look to other jurisdictions to see how they have dealt with the same legal questions. While the courts have not definitively provided universal answers to these questions, they have at least given an indication of how such issues might be resolved should they arise again. What is clear however, is that religious freedom as a substantive right, at least from a legislative perspective, has lost the respect and deference it once had in Western culture.


Keywords: COVID, churches, proportionality, European Convention on Human Rights, vaccines, religious freedom, lockdown.


  1. Introduction


In January 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Europe. Weeks later, unprecedented lockdown measures were begun in most of Europe, shutting down large segments of society with catastrophic death and hospitalisation rates being predicted by some epidemiological models (Ferguson et al., 2020).[1] Policy was seemingly being driven by fear of the unknown and with the desire to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed. The result was that very few areas of life were left unregulated, including churches and other houses of worship.

This paper does not seek to take any sides on the necessity of measures undertaken by governments, including lockdowns or vaccine mandates. Recognizing that governments have a legitimate interest in promoting and protecting public health, and assuming that governments have by and large acted in good faith, this paper will focus solely on exploring the legal balance between promoting public health measures and respecting freedom of thought, conscious and religion.

The subject jurisdiction to be explored in this enquiry will be the United Kingdom. Where helpful, the paper will also look at how courts from other jurisdictions have dealt with the issues involved. The two central questions to be analysed in this enquiry are church closures and vaccine mandates.


  1. Church Closures


  • State of Emergency

For many Christians in Europe, and other people of faith, one of the biggest challenges during the different COVID lockdowns was the treatment of places of worship and other manifestations of religious life such as funerals and marriages. Two of the unifying elements of the Council of Europe are the foundational requirements that each of its Member States be democracies and that they respect the rule of law.

What is also clear is that religious freedom is protected by the national constitutions or constitutional traditions of each Council of Europe Member State, and also by the international commitment of each of those states to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights [Convention], which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The guiding principle to be used in this analysis of pandemic measures is the concept of legality. Precisely stated, were measures taken to restrict manifestation of religion in accord with the rule of law, meeting the principles of constitutionality, proportionality, necessity and rationality.

It is a worthwhile starting point to highlight the fact that every country in Europe, with the sole exception of Belarus, are members of the Council of Europe and have ratified the Convention. It is also important to note that throughout the pandemic, most Council of Europe Member States, the United Kingdom included, had not availed themselves of the right of derogation during a state of emergency prescribed by Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights, by informing the Secretary General of the Council of Europe of their intention to do so and the measures they intended to take (Council of Europe).

Article 15(3) of the Convention is clear as to this stipulation:

Any High Contracting Party availing itself of this right of derogation shall keep the Secretary General of the Council of Europe fully informed of the measures which it has taken and the reasons therefor. It shall also inform the Secretary General of the Council of Europe when such measures have ceased to operate and the provisions of the Convention are again being fully executed.

Likewise, the United Kingdom, together with all of the other countries in Europe, are signatories of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United Kingdom ratified the Covenant on 20 May 1976. In made no reservations in relation to Article 18 of the Covenant which guarantees freedom of religion. Nor did it make any reservations to Article 4’s provision that even in a time of emergency, public authorities are forbidden to derogate from Article 18 of the Covenant.

Despite this, in March 2020, the United Kingdom introduced various lockdown measures in reaction to the growing fears surrounding the virus (UK, 2020, No. 350).[2] Among the lockdown measures was the wholesale closure of houses of worship, the limitation of people allowed to attend funerals and the prohibition of marriage ceremonies. Churches were allowed to broadcast their services and were allowed to continue engaging in social outreach services to the community.

As can be seen from the above summary, the United Kingdom’s restrictions on religious freedom cannot be justified by emergency alone. Any interference with freedom of religion imposed by the government must, therefore, have continued to respect church autonomy, while being proportionately tailored to serving the legitimate aim of public health (Article 9(2) of the Convention).


  • Church Autonomy

Arguably, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in taking the measures it did to limit freedom of worship, had failed to take account the enhanced scrutiny afforded to manifestation of religious belief by churches, and the principle of Church independence (Section 13, Human Rights Act 1998).[3]

One of the most unwavering and established principles found in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights is the doctrine of church autonomy. In the seminal case of Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia v Moldova, the Court held that:

…the right of believers to freedom of religion, which includes the right to manifest one’s religion in community with others, encompasses the expectation that believers will be allowed to associate freely, without arbitrary state intervention. (ECHR, 2001, § 118)

The Court has concluded that a public authority may not interfere with the internal workings of a church or religious organization and may not impose rigid conditions on the practice or functioning of religious beliefs (ECHR, 1999, §§ 51–53; ECHR, 2000a, § 82). So strong is this principle that it has been upheld three times by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR, 2000b, 2013a, 2014). Most recently the Court again upheld the same principle regarding respect for the internal workings of religious organizations in a judgment against Hungary when the Court found measures which gave nearly unfettered discretion to parliament to prevent church registration for non-traditional or minority religions violated Article 9 (ECHR, 2015).

While it is accepted that the Church of England may have asked for such measures to be put in place, that should not have negatively impacted the rights of non-state churches in ordering their own affairs. In fact, it has been held that measures taken pursuant to a state church does not relieve a public authority of its obligations to respect all of the rights inherent in the Convention (ECHR, 2011a, § 68). Furthermore, if a state church system is to satisfy the requirements of Article 9, it must have in place safeguards to protect the rights of individual believers, including those of other denominations or faiths (ECHR, 2012a, § 27).

A case can be made that the closure of churches for the purpose of participatory communal religious exercise, leaving them open for social welfare purposes only, not only secularizes the purpose of churches, it sends a very public message that the relevant decision makers view the spiritual role of the church as secondary, wholly dispensable, and subject to nearly unfettered control over its own ability to operate freely. Precisely stated, the manner in which the regulations limiting collective worship were adopted undermined the seminal principle of church autonomy, and by extension church and state separation.


  • Necessity and Proportionality

The importance of freedom of religion in a democratic society cannot be understated. Freedom of worship is an indispensable component of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as is church autonomy. Freedom of religion is the only human right to take into account the transcendent. It recognises that our spiritual and emotional well-being is at least as important as our physical health.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights captured the substance of freedom of worship well in Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria:

The Court recalls that religious communities traditionally and universally exist in the form of organised structures. They abide by rules which are often seen by followers as being of a divine origin. Religious ceremonies have their meaning and sacred value for the believers if they have been conducted by ministers empowered for that purpose in compliance with these rules... Participation in the life of the community is thus a manifestation of one's religion, protected by Article 9 of the Convention. (ECHR, 2000b, § 82)

For interference with freedom of worship to be a legitimate exercise of executive authority, the interference in question must be ‘necessary in a democratic society’. The ECHR has stated that the typical features of a democratic society are pluralism, tolerance, and broadmindedness (1976; 1989, § 37; 2001b, § 349; 2001c, § 84; 2001d, at §§ 69, 81). For such an interference to be necessary in a democratic society, it must meet a “pressing social need” while at the same time remaining “proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued” (ECHR, 1979, § 62.). The Court defines proportionality as being the achievement of a fair balance between various conflicting interests (ECHR, 1981, § 24; 1976, § 23). Any interference with freedom of religious exercise must be based on just reasons that are both “relevant and sufficient” (ECHR, 1997, 2533, 2548; 1981, § 22). This need must of course be concrete (Renucci, 2005).

The term ‘necessary’, as in ‘necessary in a democratic society’, does not have the flexibility of such expressions as ‘useful’ or ‘desirable’ (ECHR, 2007, § 116). Importantly, only convincing and compelling reasons can justify restrictions on a fundamental Convention freedom (ECHR, 1937).

The foundational question therefore is whether the closure of churches for worship and other spiritual purposes in the United Kingdom, including the solemnizing of marriages, was a proportionate means of serving public health. We know from the caselaw of the Court that proportionality in relation to Article 9, and Strasbourg’s supervisory authority over any restrictions imposed on the freedom to manifest all of the rights inherent in freedom of religion, call for “very strict scrutiny” (ECHR, 1996, § 44). Elsewhere the Court has held that the Court’s supervisory function pertaining to Article 9 requires the Court to look at individual cases in their totality of circumstances, and not by comparison to a hypothetical group (ECHR, 1993, § 21).

It is certainly arguable that the way in which churches were shut amounted to constitutional overreach by failing to properly balance the rights and needs of churches and believers with the health and safety of others. Nor was the wholesale manner in which churches were closed a narrowly tailored means of achieving public health. In fact, it would seem that no balance of interests was undertaken in making the decision to close churches.

While someone in England, for example, was free to purchase alcohol (both off-license and licensed), go to a bicycle shop, secure a loan, go to the chiropractor or dry cleaner, or any other number of activities, church attendance was punishable by fine or forced physical removal to their home, in accordance with Schedule 2 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restriction) (England) Regulations 2020.

The reality is that as dangerous as COVID was during the period of church closures, the threat of addiction relapse, suicide or mental illness which may come from the crippling isolation and pervasive fear caused by the response to the virus was just as dangerous. The public benefit of functioning churches would have been invaluable to these vulnerable people, as well as to believers around the country whose lives are anchored by their faith and participation in their church community. Furthermore, as freedom of religion fundamentally recognises, human beings are more than just physical creatures. We are also spiritual beings, and for many of us, our relationship with our God and participation in our spiritual community is an essential part of who we are.

It is distressing that proportionality and church autonomy were seemingly so easily and carelessly discarded with the closure of churches in the different jurisdictions in the UK. Given that no state of emergency was formally registered with the Council of Europe, it is a matter of significant concern that the regulations closing churches has set a dire precedent for future church activity and government super-regulation of religious exercise. Religious freedom without autonomy is no freedom at all. Churches provide an essential service for a large portion of the British population and their needs, be they spiritual or otherwise.

At the time, avenues were certainly available to keeping churches open in a way that would mitigate the spread of COVID. The failure of the Health Secretary to consider those avenues is evidence that the measures were disproportionate, or at least that they were not properly ‘prescribed by law’as required by Article 9(2) of the Convention.

The one UK jurisdiction where the issue of church closures was fully litigated was Scotland (CSOH, 2021). The Court of Sessions ruled that while the measures passed an objective rationality test, in that restricting public meetings would result in lower transmission rates of COVID (§ 102ff.), the regulations nonetheless lacked proportionality (§ 115–116). The Scottish court reasoned that less intrusive measures were available to make churches at least as safe as supermarkets, or other comparable public spaces, with the use of social distancing and proper ventilation and other hygienic measures. At a minimum, the court reasoned, there was certainly no sense of proportionality in closing churches for private prayer.


  • Comparative Jurisprudence

Early on in the pandemic, the proportionality of France’s ‘lockdown’ of places of worship was considered by the highest Administrative Court in France, the Conseil d'État, in MW et al (Administrative Court, 2020). The Court found that the blanket ban on religious services in France was a “serious and manifestly illegal infringement” of religious exercise under Article 9 and other French and international provisions (§ 34).

The same issue was analysed by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany (2020) in a judgment handed down on the 29th of April 2020, which was a challenge by a Muslim religious association. The Constitutional Court granted interim relief permitting Friday prayers in a mosque, on the grounds that a blanket ban with no mechanism to apply for exemptions was a disproportionate interference with constitutional rights.

The United States Supreme Court [SCOTUS] (2020), in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v Cuomo, granted the petitioners interim relief against Governor Cuomo’s restrictions on religious services. SCOTUS reasoned that the claim would likely prevail and that failure to grant interim relief would irreparably damage the applicant’s 1st Amendment rights. The Court found that churches were being subject to harsher scrutiny than comparable secular facilities and that the petitioner had been following all applicable public health guidance.

Similarly, the Circuit Court of Oregon in Elkhorn Baptist Church, et al v. Katherine Brown, Governor of the State of Oregon (2020), granted a temporary injunction suspending the ‘lockdown’ of religious services. The Court observed that:

The Governor’s orders are not required for public safety when Plaintiffs can continue to utilize social distancing and safety protocols at larger gatherings involving spiritual worship, just as grocery stores and businesses deemed essential by the Governor have been authorized to do. (466 P3d 30, 366 Or. 506.)

The U.S. courts struck down other similar claims on the same grounds, that being that the churches in question were following relevant health and safety guidance but were nonetheless being treated differently than comparable public spaces (The Superior Court of Los Angeles County, 2020; Mayor of the District of Columbia, 2020; 2021).

Another church lockdown claim was brought in Texas by Steven Horze et al, Case 20–0249. In response to the claim, the Governor of Texas issued an Executive Order which included churches in the list of “essential services” which were permitted to remain open. The claim was then withdrawn. Other states, like Florida, followed suit by declaring churches essential services (State of Florida, 2020), making the United States and Brazil the only jurisdictions in the world to keep churches open on this basis. In all, 12 U.S. States declared churches to be an essential service during the COVID emergency.

A further insight may be gained from the decision of the High Court of South Africa (2020) in De Beer v The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. The challenge was against the ‘lockdown’ measures in South Africa generally. In analysing the proportionality of the interference with constitutional rights, similar to the Convention analysis done in Council of Europe Member States, the South African Court found at paragraph 7 (§§ 7.17–21), that in an overwhelming number of instances the regulations were not even ‘rationally connected’ to the legitimate aims. While religious services were exempted from the South African ‘lockdown’, had they not been, similar criticisms would no doubt have applied to the prohibition of freedom of worship.


  1. Vaccine Mandates


  • The Legal State of Play

Currently, section 45E of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 prohibits the mandatory use of vaccines. Section 45E reads: “(1) Regulations under section 45B or 45C may not include provision requiring a person to undergo medical treatment. (2) “Medical treatment” includes vaccination and other prophylactic treatment.”

Sections 45B and 45C, as referenced in Section 45E, deal with the power to make regulations in relation to international travel and domestically.

Had the UK eventually decided to move towards a universal COVID vaccination mandate, the move would have been historically unprecedented. In 1853 vaccines were made compulsory for all new-born infants but this was discontinued in 1971. Since then, no other UK government has contemplated such a significant move.

In November 2021, the government did however amend the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (HMSO) to require health care and home care workers to have to COVID vaccination injections as a condition of remaining on the job. The move led to tens of thousands of workers leaving the public health sector. The government announced that it would be scrapping the mandate on 15 March 2022, leaving the fate of the workers who left because of the mandate in limbo (Gregory, 2022).


  • The Jurisprudence

There is no doubt that the UK government has a legitimate interest in preventing the spread of disease and that an element of vaccinations is not only protecting those who have taken it, but also protecting third parties. However, in law, having a legitimate aim in mind does not give the government carte blanche to act, particularly where doing so has such a significant impact on personal freedoms. The legal standard then is whether the action taken by the government to infringe on certain personal rights is narrowly tailored and proportionate to the legitimate aim being sought and whether it is necessary in a democratic society.

The Solomakhin case was the first to clearly establish the finding in European law, transposed into UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998, that:

‘[c]ompulsory vaccination – as an involuntary medical treatment – amounts to an interference with the right to respect for one’s private life, which includes a person’s physical and psychological integrity, as guaranteed by Article 8(1)’. (ECHR, 2012b, § 33)

Article 8 of the Convention deals with private life, as well as personal and family autonomy. The proportionality test, the European Court of Human Rights concluded, must take into account the specific vaccine and its suitability to the individual in question.

Elsewhere the Court has found that:

…free choice and self-determination were themselves fundamental constituents of life and that, absent any indication of the need to protect third parties, the State must abstain from interfering with the individual freedom of choice in the sphere of health care, for such interference can only lessen and not enhance the value of life. Jehovah's Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia, (ECHR, 2010, § 136)

Just this past year, in a much anticipated ruling, the Grand Chamber delivered its ruling in the case of Vavřička and Others v. the Czech Republic (ECHR, 2021), a case which dealt with mandatory childhood vaccination. While this is the first judgment to deal with mandatory childhood vaccination, it is important to distinguish the case from a possible COVID vaccination mandate challenge. First and foremost, the Czech Republic already had exemptions in place from compulsory vaccination, including for those children with counter-indications to those specific vaccines. Exemptions were also allowed on the grounds of secular conscientious objection. The Grand Chamber did not deal with Article 9 as it was accepted that this was not pled by the family.

Second, the scope of the case was limited to only 10 historically well-known vaccines about which the public health authorities had a wealth of knowledge, verifiable data over a long period of time, and prior clinical testing. Therefore, a strong argument can be made, particularly given these factors, that the Vavřička judgment could not be stretched so far as to include COVID vaccination requirements.


  • Concerns About Safety and Vaccination

The case can be made that the question of individual suitability is certainly balanced towards personal autonomy in the case of mandatory vaccination schemes, especially as pertains to COVID. The vaccines have been rushed onto the market in an unprecedented way. Moreover, the UK government (the Department of Health and Social Care) have given some vaccine producers, like Pfizer, legal indemnity from being sued where patients suffer complications from the vaccine (Lintern, 2020).

What’s more, the efficacy and the safety of the vaccines leaves more questions than answers. AstraZeneca has faced serious questions about its efficacy, both during clinical trials and with those over the age of 65 (Ellyat, 2021). It has also been suspected of leading to blood clots in recipients, with more than a dozen countries in Europe alone having had suspended its supply pending further investigation. Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines have also courted controversy. Back in August 2021, Newsweek magazine reported that in the US alone, 970 people had died as a result of taking one of the two vaccines (Browne, 2021).

Additionally, pregnant women have been advised not to take the COVID vaccine. What is more, concerns about the vaccine have been raised about possible effects on fertility (Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, 2022).

Precisely stated, COVID vaccines have questionable efficacy, create issues for those who are pregnant, possibly diminish fertility, have led to death and serious harm, and are not subject to tort litigation by those who have been negatively impacted by it. Not only would it be disproportionate to make COVID vaccination mandatory under such circumstances, or at least to create a scheme where those who do not take it suffer detriments such as lessened freedoms, it would be wholly irrational. Where one of the side effects of the COVID vaccination is death, it would strain credulity to suggest that anyone but the individual themselves should be the sole arbiter of whether to take the vaccine or not.

A counter-balance to this argument is that despite the factors noted above, the COVID vaccine still is a safer alternative than not vaccinating. Additionally, the chance of death as a result of taking the vaccine are de minimus, and certainly much lower that the death rates for the unvaccinated among the most vulnerable segments of the population; namely the aged and those with pre-existing conditions.


  • Grounds of Religious Belief and Conscience

Any scheme which would unduly punish an individual, either by pecuniary means or by removing freedoms or entitlements would also have a negative impact on religious freedom.

Christians believe that man was created in the image of God (English Standard Version Bible, 2016, Gen 1:27). It is also widely held among Christians that the body is a temple and we owe a duty to God to protect it: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (ESV Bible, 2016, 1 Cor 3:17). Scripture calls on believers to trust in the healing power of God: “heal me o Lord, and I shall be healed” (ESV Bible, 2016, Jer 17:1,).; and “the Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health” (ESV Bible, 2016, Ps 41:3). The New Testament also speaks to physical healing through faith: “and the prayer of faith will heal the one who is sick” (ESV Bible, 2016, James 5:15).

While Christians have divergent views on the issue of their faith and vaccines, the fact remains that there are Christians who refuse to get vaccinated because of their faith. Therefore, vaccination schemes which are essentially mandatory, whether strictly speaking or substantively so, can engage the protections guaranteed to believers by Article 9 of the Convention. Like with the issue of physical integrity and private life (Article8), a proportionality test is required to balance the competing rights (ECHR, 2006).

Furthermore, religious freedom is as much an individual right as it is a collective right. Therefore, Christian beliefs against vaccines do not have to be a mandatory faith tenet of a person’s religion to engage the Convention. All that is necessary is for that person to hold the belief seriously and cogently (ECHR, 2013b, §82).


  • Fetal Cells and the Vaccine

Significant moral and legal questions also arise from the fact that some vaccines have been developed using fetal cell lines harvested from aborted babies (Wadman, 2020). Christian Concern has also addressed the issues involved for Christians in a recent video it has published on the subject matter (Christian Concern, 2021).

Pro-life beliefs, whether based on religious grounds or separate from them, are protected by Article 9 of the Convention (ECHR, 1985). The taking of a vaccine which was developed with the use of fetal cells, the harvesting of which necessitated the destruction of human life, would be a serious issue of conscience for many people who identify as pro-life. The dissenting opinions of Judges Vuĉinić and De Gaetano in the Eweida and Others case (ECHR, 2013, Op. Cited at Supra fn. 50), argued that instances of conscientious objection are not so much a matter of freedom of religion as they are of freedom of conscience. Freedom of conscience is mentioned in Article 9(1) of the Convention but is not subject to any of the limitations in Article 9(2), meaning that once a genuine and serious case of conscientious objection is established, the state is obliged to respect it both positively and negatively. Whether or not this position would withstand further judicial scrutiny, what is clear is that the imposition of a vaccination certification scheme would cause a crisis of conscience for many and undoubtedly lead to much litigation.


  • Burden on Churches and Ministries

A further issue relating to vaccine passports or mandatory vaccination is that they would create a burden on freedom of worship and Christian education. Facility based mandates or individual restrictions facing those who do not have vaccination certification would do violence to the rights of churches, church organisations such as schools, and to individual believers. Any such schemes raise serious constitutional and human rights questions which require both proportionality and rationality. As noted above, last year, a Scottish court struck down COVID lockdown regulations which disproportionately impacted churches. The case of Philip v Scottish Ministers (CSOH, 2021) challenged both the constitutionality and proportionality of the Scottish restrictions as they specifically related to churches. What that case highlights is that paternalism, where laws are imposed on the supposition that they are in the best interests of the common good, but which cannot be evidenced as being necessary in a democratic society and narrowly tailored to safeguard essential freedoms, do not pass legal muster.

Ultimately, the burden would be on the government to show that such measures would be a proportionate burden on churches and para-ministries in order to justify vaccine schemes to attend a worship service or partake in other Article 9 related activities. To date, no such attempt has been made by the UK government, although other jurisdictions in Europe have done so. The issue of COVID vaccination requirements has yet to be decided at the European level.


  1. Conclusion


It is often said that religious freedom is the barometer of a healthy democracy. If this were truly the case, the United Kingdom’s treatment of freedom of worship and other elements of Article 9 during the COVID lockdowns would certainly cast a negative light on its respect for personal freedoms and democratic rights. It goes without saying that the decisions being made at the time, with the information that was at hand, were life and death. The legal questions involved with such restrictions were also novel, as a pandemic of this nature has never occurred during the modern human rights era, which began with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, decades following the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

Time will tell how history remembers the lockdown measures across Europe. What cannot be denied is that very little deference was shown to freedom of religion when restrictions were being promulgated. In not a single jurisdiction of the United Kingdom was collective worship deemed an essential service. While church lockdown cases or the question of mandatory COVID vaccination, particularly from an Article 9 perspective, have not yet been decided by the Strasbourg Court, there is reason to believe that religious freedom would prevail on proportionality grounds. As Europe is slowly finding its way out from 2 years of lockdowns, we can only pray that these questions remain academic and that no further COVID related restrictions of religious freedom will be needed. Only time will tell.


Roger Kiska




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  1. (2020). The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations. No. 350.

Wadman, M. (2020, June 05). Abortion Opponents Protest COVID-19 Vaccines Use of Fetal Cells. Science.

Capitol Hill Baptist Church v Muriel Bowser, in Her Official Capacity as Mayor of the District of Columbia. (2020, 9 October). Case No. 20-cv-02710 (TNM).

Grace Community Church of the Valley, et al. v. Gavin Newsom, et al. (2021, 19 August). LASC Case No. 20BBCV00497 (consol. with County of Los Angeles, et al. v. Grace Community Church of the Valley, et al. LASC Case No. 20STCV30695).

High Court of South Africa. (2020, 2 June) De Beer v The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Case No 21542/2020.

MW et al. Administrative Court, France. (2020, May 18). Case No. 440366, 440380, 440410, 440531, 440550, 440562, 440563 and 440590.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church v Newsom. (2021, 5 February). 592 US (2021).

United States Supreme Court. (2020, 25 November). Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v Cuomo 592.

[1] Ferguson predicted a worst-case scenario of 2.2 million COVID-19 deaths in the United States alone during the first wave of the pandemic. The actual number was 385, 000. Elsewhere, Ferguson predicted that on 17 April 2020, which he thought would be the peak of the first wave, that there would be 2,932 COVID-19 deaths in the United Kingdom. Sarah Boseley, Coronavirus: UK will have Europes Worst Death Toll Study Says, The Guardian (08 April 2020). In reality, there were 819 COVID-19 deaths in the UK on the 17th. See:

[2] For an example of how the closures were formulated, see Section 5(5)–(6) of the Regulations for England at:

[3] For a further analysis of Church autonomy in ECHR case-law, see: Roger Kiska, The Question of Church Autonomy in Affaire Sindicatul Păstorul cel bun c. Roumanie, 2012 See also: W. Cole Durham Jr. and Donlu Thayer (Eds.), Religion and Equality: Law in Conflict, New York: Routledge, 2016.

Autor: Paweł Kiermasz
Date: 30 May 2023
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