Demonstrations and church services: high hurdles for bans on Easter


Status: 24.03.2021 02:25 a.m.

“Gatherings” should be forbidden at Easter. Does that mean a complete ban on demonstrations? That would be legally open to attack, just like a ban on religious services.

From Frank Groom,
ARD legal expert

“Gatherings in public spaces are generally prohibited,” says the decision paper of the federal-state conference. It is still unclear exactly what the term “accumulations” means. He thinks too Watchcollections, that is, demonstrations like the traditional Easter marches? Does “in principle” mean that there will also be exceptions? The federal states have yet to determine all of this.

But if the sentence in the decision paper should go in the same direction: Around Easter demonstrations are completely prohibited, if that would legally stand on shaky feet.

Freedom of assembly is a great good

Freedom of assembly is regulated as a fundamental right in Article 8 of the Basic Law. They can be restricted due to a law, also for reasons of fighting a pandemic. However, a complete ban can only be the last resort. The classic middle ground in practice are so-called “requirements”, for example: only a few people, large distance, additional hygiene requirements.

The courts have repeatedly objected to assembly bans – including by the Federal Constitutional Court in an urgent decision from the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020. With a complete ban on a demonstration in Hesse, the authorities would have misjudged the importance and scope of freedom of assembly, according to the Karlsruhe judges at the time . For decades the court has emphasized the great importance of this fundamental right in numerous decisions.

Conditions as a milder means

Of course, when you think about this topic, the images from Kassel with tens of thousands of demonstrators and the lack of distance come to mind. That is of course not the point. In any case, the complete ban is legally difficult, even if at the same time milder variants are possible and compatible with health protection. In any case, the courts will strictly monitor whether such scenarios of very small demonstrations have been examined by the authorities.

No services – just a “request”

A ban on church services in attendance would also be difficult to enforce for similar legal reasons. That is probably one reason why the decision paper remains in the form of a “request” from politicians to the churches. Shortly before Easter last year, the Federal Constitutional Court also warned about the importance of religious freedom.

The court had rejected an urgent application by a Catholic on Good Friday 2020. But at the same time it emphasized that a ban on religious services is an “extremely serious interference with the freedom of belief”. The judges warned that politicians must constantly review the proportionality of such measures.

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Demonstrations church services high hurdles bans Easter


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