Religious services and the law

 

Sir, – Pádraig McCarthy (Letters, April 20th) refers to my letter of the previous day in which I expressed the view that it was now a criminal offence to attend a gathering of people for religious reasons.

He disagrees with my view on the basis that the sentence “This is a penal provision” appears in the explanatory memorandum, which is not part of the instrument.

But that sentence appears in the explanatory memorandum quite simply because the instrument itself provides that the restriction is a “penal provision”. It is unequivocally a criminal offence for anyone to attend a gathering of people for religious reasons. – Yours, etc,

Prof ORAN DOYLE,

Covid-19 Law

and Human Rights

Observatory,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Just a few weeks ago, the Court of Session in Scotland ruled that government closure of houses of worship was unconstitutional and a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In essence, the court held that, while coronavirus restrictions are necessary, they must be proportionate.

This may not be the product of a court gone rogue.

Indeed, courts around the globe have reached similar conclusions. In the US, the Supreme Court has tossed out restrictions on religious worship in several recent cases (see, for example, Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v Cuomo).

Closer to home, last November the French Conseil d’État overturned limits on religious worship, calling them disproportionate and a “manifestly illegal attack” on freedom of religion.

It is important to add that judicial scrutiny of Covid-related laws has been more frequent internationally and not simply limited to religious rights.

Indeed, the Conseil d’État in France has been particularly hawk-eyed when it comes to restrictions. For instance, it ruled just over a month ago that a total ban on senior citizens leaving their nursing homes was “disproportionate” because it would, among other reasons, “alter their physical and psychological state”.

The global cases cited above should be food for thought for courts here, and especially for Irish citizens, whose physical and psychological states may be similarly “altered”.

If we are to live under changeable restrictions for the foreseeable future, more exacting scrutiny by the judicial branch could be brought to them, ensuring they are above all proportionate. – Yours, etc,

Dr SEÁN SMITH,

Dublin 2.