Church services, a pandemic and the law
Sir, – With the imposing of Level 3 restrictions, people are now prevented from participating at church services involving a congregation. This is in sharp contrast to what is happening elsewhere, including just over the Border in Northern Ireland. It is possible to attend Mass in Newry but not in Dundalk, while every European capital except Dublin presently allows in-person church attendance.
Why are we an outlier? Churches are controlled environments, where physical distancing and many other measures have been diligently implemented since reopening on June 29th. The question is even more relevant in the light of Article 44.1 of the Constitution: “The State acknowledges that the homage of public worship is due to Almighty God. It shall hold His Name in reverence and shall respect and honour religion.” Countries with no such clause are allowing public worship while Ireland is not. In contradiction both of our Constitution and the deeply held sentiments of a large section of Irish society, the best the State can offer is the euphemistic phrase in the Living with Covid Plan that at Level 3 and higher “church services move online”.
It is time that this injustice is redressed either through respectful negotiation by the Government with faith leaders or, as a last resort, through interested parties taking a legal challenge. The latter has proved both necessary and successful in other jurisdictions.– Yours, etc,
Sir, – In your report that Catholic archbishops have requested a meeting with the Taoiseach to address concerns about the loss of Mass services (News, October 9th), you state that under Level 3 “all religious services must move online”.
It is important to be clear about the precise situation. With the exception of funerals, where attendance is limited to 25 people, there is currently no legal prohibition on religious services, nor restriction on the numbers who can attend.
The Government has issued advice against the holding of religious services. There may well be good reasons for this advice. But if the churches consider that the advice is misguided, they may hold religious services without breaking the law. – Yours, etc,
Prof ORAN DOYLE,
School of Law,
Trinity College Dublin.