A top Swiss court has temporarily overturned a blanket ban on religious gatherings in the city of Geneva.
The Constitutional Chamber of the Canton of Geneva handed down the order on 3rd December after a legal case was brought forward by a group of concerned citizens.
Worship services will now be able to resume until a final judgement is made on the matter. The court has indicated that the legal challenge is likely to be successful, noting that the authorities have failed to demonstrate that places of worship have been responsible for outbreaks of Covid-19 in the area.
Under the measures, which were introduced on November 1st, all public religious services were banned with the exemption of funerals and weddings, albeit with limited numbers.
One of the lawyers in the case, Steve Alder, said that the ban on worship services had been discriminatory because the city had permitted other mass gatherings.
“Switzerland has a good track record in protecting the religious freedom of its citizens. It is a poster child of democracy and human rights. That makes it all the more worrying to see a total ban on all religious gatherings and events in such a drastic form," he said.
"It is one of the broadest bans of its kind in Switzerland and most of Europe where similar bans have been successfully challenged. Enforcing it is a violation of the right to freedom of religion as protected in the Swiss Constitution and by international human rights standards. It disproportionately targets the activities of religious groups over commercial activities.
"With multiple religious groups in Geneva voicing their concerns over the disproportionality of the ban, we hope that the authorities will ultimately agree on a solution that protects everyone’s right to practise their religion in line with international law. The suspension of the ban is a welcome step in this direction.”
ADF also commended the ruling, with legal counsel Jennifer Lea noting that religious freedom is "a fundamental human right" that must be protected and upheld at all costs.
"The suspension of the ban until the court makes a final decision is a significant step in the right direction," she said. "This ban is a serious violation of the fundamental rights Switzerland is committed to protect in a number of international human rights agreements. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and governments seeking to restrict it carry the burden of proving the restriction is truly necessary and that a less restrictive approach would not work.
"Favouring commercial establishments over religious services is not only discriminatory but ignores the robust protection that exists in national and international law for religious freedom."