Supermarkets yes, Churches no. Why? ask French intellectuals


A group of French intellectuals, jurists and historians in a letter to the French journal La Croix appealed to French President Macron for an end to liturgical lockdown as early as May 11, when restrictions on other activities will be relaxed.  In very simple terms their argument is: If people can gather in supermarkets and schools under certain conditions, why cannot they do the same in Church?

They emphasised the need that hygiene and safety safeguards be introduced. The French bishops had also proposed that the opening of churches for worship be accompanied by the limiting of the number of faithful in churches and the imposition of strict hygienic measures.

When in  a decree of March 23 the French government had closed a number of establishments it had authorized places of worship “to remain open” while at the same time prohibiting “any gathering or assembly within them.” There was one exception: funerals could be held but attendance was limited to  20 persons.

When recently measures were taken by the President of the Republic to soften the lockdown measures as of May 11, he also announced that worship would not resume mid-June.

French government accused of inconsistency

The French intellectuals, jurists and historians writing in La Croix said that it is difficult to understand why schools, public services, public transport, courts, businesses and most shops could be reopened to the public but worship in churches and sacred places of different religions would still be banned. They described this decision as one showing inconsistency.

“Would it, in fact, be more complex to gather worshipers in a church than it would be to gather students in a classroom or passengers on a train? Is religious freedom less valuable than the freedom to be an entrepreneur or to work? Such prolonged restrictions would also be difficult to justify.”

The signatories of the letter to La Croix said that:

“By maintaining these restrictions beyond May 11, the public authorities would run the risk of disproportionately undermining freedom of worship and adding the incomprehension of believers to the tensions of confinement.

People do not live on bread alone. Their existence cannot be summed up in the hours spent in supermarkets and in front of TV or computer screens, or even in their professional lives.”

The signatories note that the European Court of Human Rights, France’s Constitutional Council and the Council of State recognizes the freedom of worship as one of the “foundations” of our democratic societies. This can “only be limited by States with circumspection, for overriding reasons of public interest, and provided that these restrictions are justified, necessary and proportionate.”

The internet is not enough

They add that the spiritual dimension is very important to many people and that this dimension can only be lived intimately in a community.

They made a reference to the number of services uploaded on the internet but were of the opinion that:

“No screen can replace a celebration experienced in communion with others, the beauty of a rite, the collective listening to sacred texts, the gift of the sacraments, the fervour of common prayer, the moment engraved forever in a baptism or a marriage, or religious tributes to our dead.”

Who are the signatories?

The signatories of the letter to La Croix are: Jean-Baptiste Chevalier, attorney at law; Hubert Veauvy, attorney at law; Basile Achet, professor of philosophy; Marie Achet-Haushalter, associate professor of history; Cyrille Dounot, associate professor of legal history; Guillaume Drouot, associate professor of civil law; Marc Dupré, professor-researcher in private law; Hugues Feral, attorney at law; Julien Ferrant, associate professor of history; Clotilde Maïdanatz-Guéry, professor of philosophy; Louis Manaranche, associate professor of history; Violaine Ricard, philosopher.

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