Irish Prime Minister called to protect religious freedom after Covid worship ban

(Photo: ADF International)

An open letter has been sent to Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin calling for guarantees that church worship will never again be banned in Ireland. 

Churches are getting ready to open their doors on 10 May after public worship was suspended for nearly a year, with those leaving their homes to attend service or mass threatened with criminal penalties. 

The strict measures angered people of faith at a time when dry cleaners and off-licenses were allowed to stay open with safety measures in place. 

Christians have been leading a campaign against the ban on public worship called 'Let Us Worship' which argues that the restrictions against churches are unfair and disproportionate. 

The open letter launched this week asks the Taoiseach to affirm respect for the fundamental right to freedom of religion, as enshrined in Article 44 of the Constitution and protected in international human rights law.

It also demands that he recognise churches as an essential part of society, and commit to never again imposing a blanket ban on public worship. 

The letter is being supported by the Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF). 

ADF legal counsel Lorcán Price said: "There is no clear reason as to why the Irish government prevented places of worship from opening for so long.

"Other European countries allowed religious worship to continue with safety precautions which protect both the public at religious services and the wider community." 

He continued, "Religious freedom is a fundamental human right, protected by the Irish Constitution, and it's vital that the Irish government recognise this. 

"Irish people of faith were deprived of worship, of the sacraments, and of the hope that the church can offer at a time when they were most needed – at a time of crisis.

"The Irish government must show that it understands that communal worship is essential for many Irish people, and commit to never again imposing such a draconian ban."

A similar ban imposed on Scottish churches was struck down by the courts in a landmark ruling in favour of religious freedom in March.

The court called the Scottish Government's ban "unlawful".

Irish businessman Declan Ganley has filed a legal challenge against the Irish Government's ban and is hoping for a similar verdict.

He welcomed the resumption of public services in Ireland but said it "does not reverse the fact that for most of the past year, churches have been subjected to unfair treatment in comparison to places of commerce".

"There is no clear explanation as to why the Irish people should have been deprived of an essential source of comfort and hope in such a time of national grief," he said.

"There's no clear logic as to why an airy, open church, with plenty of space, should be considered somehow more dangerous than a bicycle shop. Are people of faith really more contagious than others?"

He said the Scottish case, led by Canon Tom White and other church leaders, had "important" implications.

"Now more than ever, we need a clear decision from the court as to whether this draconian ban was ever justified in the first place," he said.

"And it is also a critical moment for the future of faith in Ireland.

"The courts now have the opportunity to ensure that the community is never again deprived access to a place to meet with God and minister to the suffering at a time of need."