An open letter circulating among people of faith in Ireland demands that the government commit to “never again impose a blanket ban on public worship.”
The letter, addressed to the Taoiseach (prime minister), calls on the government to respect “the fundamental right of freedom of religion” in accordance with the Irish constitution and international law; and to recognise churches as “an essential part of society.”
Lorcán Price, an Irish barrister and Legal Counsel for ADF International, which is supporting the effort, 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.”
Public worship has been banned in Ireland for the better part of the past year, despite businesses being allowed to open with safety precautions in place.
“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,” said Mr Price. “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.”
Last week the Irish government announced that public worship would be allowed to resume, with restrictions, beginning on May 10. Public services will be limited to 50 people, with strict guidelines for churches with greater capacity. In addition to other guidelines, the facilities where services are held must be well-ventilated, and singing is prohibited. Weddings and funerals will be permitted, with similar restrictions, with regulations in place for receptions after the events.
The Catholic Bishops in Ireland have expressed cautious support for the move to resume public worship.
“The resumption of public ceremonies in churches from 10 May onwards is deeply satisfying in so many ways,” said Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick after the move was announced. However, he warned against “Covid complacency”: “We know how resumption of public ceremonies works. We have experience and are confident that the good measures put in place last summer will continue again this time. But confidence crumbles and is worthless under complacency so we must at no stage let up. COVID complacency is the enemy and we must redouble our efforts, not least we have come so far already.”