A group of about 100 young Catholics have brought a case before the Council of State to overturn an order from the national security council to suspend open church services to help combat the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19).
At present, the government has ordered a stop to all religious gatherings other than funerals, with a maximum of 30 people attending, and religious services recorded in order to be broadcasted, for example on social media.
The group is represented by Fernand Keuleneer, the lawyer who represented the late Cardinal Godfried Danneels, former head of the church in Belgium, in his disputes with the legal system over the investigation of child abuse by clergy.
“Of course we accept safety regulations that are in the interest of public health,” he said. “But in our opinion, the prohibition is not sufficiently motivated, is disproportionate and violates religious freedom as guaranteed in the Constitution.”
The purpose of the Council of State is to scrutinise official decisions made by government at all levels, from municipal to federal. The group has filed for an interim interdict suspending the ban on services immediately, until the case can be heard in full later.
One of the founders of the group, student Wouter Suenens, told De Standaard their filing comes too late for the Feast of Ascension, which is today.
“But we would really like to be able to go to mass at Pentecost,” he said, which falls on May 31. “We don’t see why hundreds of people can go to Ikea, but thirty people can’t go to mass. And why is marriage allowed, but not baptism, for example?”
The group points to a decision this past week by the Council of State in France, which judged the country’s own “general and absolute ban” on services to be “disproportionate” and a “serious and obviously unlawful attack on the freedom of religion”.
In Germany, the constitutional court struck down a similar ban at the end of April.