Court Orders France to Rethink 30-Person Limit on Worship

A sign reading “Coronavirus screening” indicates the way to the coronavirus screening room at the La Timone hospital in Marseille, France, Thursday Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

France’s highest administrative court on Sunday ordered a rethink of a 30-person attendance limit for religious services put in place by the government to slow down the spread of coronavirus.

The measure took effect this weekend as France relaxes some virus restrictions, but it faced opposition by places of worship and the faithful for being arbitrary and unreasonable. Even before the ruling, several bishops had announced they would not enforce the restrictions and some churches were expected defy it.

The Council of State has ordered that Prime Minister Jean Castex modify the measure within three days.

French houses of worship started opening their doors again this weekend — but only a few of them, as France cautiously starts reopening after its latest virus lockdown.

For some, the new rules stirred up fears. French Catholics were sharing rules and recommendations on social media for how to behave if the police arrive at a church for a head count.

Farid Kachour, secretary-general of the group running the mosque of Montermeil, a heavily immigrant suburb northeast of Paris, says that his mosque simply wouldn’t open with too few people permitted.

“We can’t choose people” allowed to enter for prayer. “We don’t want to create discontent among the faithful,” he said.

Kachour noted that Muslims gather five times a day for prayer, further complicating the situation.

Places of worship were allowed to continue during France’s latest nationwide lockdown, which is coming to an end in December, but regular services were banned due to health concerns. Around the world, some religious services have been linked to coronavirus clusters, including superspreading events.

France has reported over 52,000 virus-related deaths, the third-highest pandemic death toll in Europe after Britain and Italy.

“Non-essential” shops reopened in France on Saturday, but restaurants will not reopen before Jan. 20.

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