St George Church, Kerala
St George Church, Kerala|Source: Wikipedia
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[Lockdown] "Have to consider public interest above all", Kerala HC refuses to allow plea to re-open Churches with limited capacity for now

"At this point, nobody is affected by this (closure of religious places). All have visual access to religious ceremonies", the Bench orally observed today.

Meera Emmanuel

A plea filed seeking for directions to allow the re-opening of Christian churches with limited holding capacity amid the COVID-19 lockdown led the Kerala High Court to emphasise today that such prayers cannot be allowed contrary to Government advisories in public interest.

Appearing for the petitioner, Advocate Philip Mathew today suggested before the Bench of Justices Shaji P Chaly and MR Anitha that certain churches may be allowed to function with limited public participation.

The Court, however, orally observed that such a plea was not practically possible amid the present COVID-19 crisis. Inter alia, the Court queried how it could be ensured that only a limited number of people would attend such church services.

"Who will take care of all this? No police can be deputed for this", Justice Chaly orally remarked, pointing out that the police officials have other duties to attend to during this time. He added,

"At this point, nobody is affected by this (closure of religious places). All have visual access to religious ceremonies."

In response, Advocate Mathew submitted that people would have to be physically present in the church to receive the holy communion.

The Court, however, pointed out that during the present times, Government advisories issued to curb the spread of COVID-19 and public interest would take precedence. The Bench observed,

"You will have to consider, above all things, the public interest. Anybody can pray, churches are functioning (virtually). The Court should be concerned about the larger public interest, regardless of religion or caste or anything."
Kerala High Court

The Court proceeded to note that as per prevailing government advisories, the mass participation of the public in religious ceremonies is not allowed amid the third phase of COVID-19 lockdown. As such, all would have to abide by this advisory for now, the Bench said.

It added that the petitioner had raised issues that should be looked into by the Central and State Government, and not the Court. While this was the case, it was noted that the petitioner had not approached Government authorities with his representation as of yet.

Therefore, the plea was adjourned to May 18, with the Court clarifying that the pendency of the petition would not stand in the way of moving a representation on the issue before the Government.

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