Justice of the Supreme Federal Court, Kássio Nunes Marques, granted on Saturday, March 3, a precautionary measure that prevents mayors and governors from prohibiting religious celebrations with the faithful on the pretext of stopping the advance of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A large number of local authorities ordered in the middle of the Holy Week, when Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the closing of churches, the prohibition of public worship or the complete restriction of celebrating with the faithful.
Some priests were forced to hold clandestine celebrations to ensure that the faithful could participate in the celebrations. All churches and Christian communities in the country already obeyed strict sanitary regulations such as social distancing, the use of masks and hand sanitizer, temperature check and even the limitation of the number of participants to 25% of the capacity of the churches.
In his decision, the magistrate recalls that freedom of worship is a right guaranteed by the Federal Constitution and affirms: “the categorical prohibition of worship does not even occur in states of defense or state of siege. How could it happen through local administrative acts? Certainly, health issues are important and must be observed, but for that, the Constitution cannot be ignored”.
“By treating religious service as not essential, states and municipalities can, indirectly, eliminate religious cults, suppressing an absolutely essential aspect of religion, which is the holding of meetings between the faithful to celebrate their rites and beliefs” he scored.
Nunes cited public transport, markets and pharmacies as examples of essential services that continue to operate during the pandemic: “Such activities can effectively create crowds of people in even smaller settings and are subject to a lesser degree of control than in churches.”
The magistrate granted the precautionary measure at the request of the National Association of Evangelical Jurists (Anajure), which challenged the state and municipal decrees that limited religious services.
In conclusion, the magistrate maintains that religious activity is fundamental: “I recognize that the moment is one of caution, in view of the pandemic context that we are experiencing; even so, and precisely because we live in such difficult times, it is more necessary to recognize the essentiality of religious activities, responsible, among other functions, to provide welcome and spiritual comfort.
The magistrate’s measure will be discussed in the plenary session of the STF next Wednesday, April 7. Read here the complete decision (in Portuguese).
Magistrate Nunes was appointed to take a seat on the Court last year by President Jair Bolsonaro.