Exceptional measures deployed to slow down the spread of COVID-19 show the need for a collective response to an issue that affects all sectors in society, with no exceptions. In this context, the European Humanist Federation expresses concerns about the practices of certain religious groups that are putting public health in jeopardy.
Since the coronavirus outbreak started, we have witnessed how some Catholic groups continue to open doors, hold services and perform rituals. Even worse, some Neocatechumenal and Evangelical denominations continue using the same chalice for all worshipers during religious services, and most Orthodox churches persisted in the rite of kissing religious images, or even administering communion using shared spoons, before religious service with public was banned. Currently, there are voices inside the Orthodox churches calling for a lift of the ban on public religious ceremonies for the Easter service.
The EHF exhorts religious leaders to call for the respect of laws and administrative authorities not to make any exceptions. Sponsored by high-ranking religious leaders, these practices do not only put at risk the lives of worshippers who attend services, but also the lives of their fellow citizens.
Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental right of paramount importance. However, it cannot be a ground for standing in the way of law and for justifying ongoing religious gatherings in times of confinement, when all other public or private gatherings are forbidden.
Therefore, the EHF urges all religious authorities to show respect and solidarity to all citizens, regardless their religion or lack thereof. We also call on all public authorities to prevent and inhibit further illegal gatherings and dangerous practices.
Religious groups must refrain from maintaining any religious practice that contravenes health measures. Public/State authorities should prosecute any person or institution that incites others to breach the law or to behave in a way that puts citizen’s health in danger.
We also regret the statements by some religious leaders about the nature of the pandemic. The position of the Orthodox Church in Greece and Serbia is that the Coronavirus infection cannot be spread by the Holy Communion, a claim that is factually false and dangerous to public health. Claims that Jesus does not carry the virus, that the pandemic is a punishment from God or that it is a Jewish conspiracy are other examples.
The EHF stresses the importance of resorting to scientific evidence and listening to scientific experts when addressing the issue. We all have a collective responsibility not to contribute to the spread of misinformation.