Coronavirus latest: Government asks religious groups to cease meeting

The Coronavirus Emergency Measures Bill will be introduced to Parliament on Thursday 19 March. Last night in the Commons, the Health Secretary suggested that religious services should be suspended during the coronavirus outbreak.

To which the Secretary of State replied as follows:

“We address that in the advice, and this is a very important point. We have taken advice on how to respond to the crisis, including from our ethics committee, which includes representatives of the major religious faiths. It is true that we include religious groups in our advice about social contact. We have seen from elsewhere in the world how sometimes it is through religious gatherings that the virus can spread so, with the deepest regret and the heaviest of heart, we include faith groups and gatherings of faith within the advice.”

The UK Government is not alone in this. Yesterday in Germany, the Federal Government and the Länder agreed to prohibit, inter alia, “Meetings in churches, mosques, synagogues and the gatherings of other faith communities” [Zusammenkünfte in Kirchen, Moscheen, Synagogen und die Zusammenkünfte anderer Glaubensgemeinschaften].

11 thoughts on “Coronavirus latest: Government asks religious groups to cease meeting

  1. I’d be really interested to know the last time when religious gatherings in England were directed in this way by the Government. My guess is that it was during the Commonwealth but I’m confident that a Law & Religion reader can come up with date, chapter and verse!

    • Sounds like one for a church historian: I’m also expecting someone who’s more learned in ecclesiastical law than I am to ask how a possible ban on religious gatherings would square with the obligations of C of E parishes to hold services (but I’m a religion & human rights person rather than a black-letter ecclesiastical lawyer).

      I suspect that a lot will depend on precisely what’s in the forthcoming Bill: will it be advisory or mandatory?

  2. What will the position be if as a result of this “advice” CofE Parishes are unable to hold their Annual Meetings of Parishioners and Annual Parochial Church Meetings within the legally-required timescale?

    Can Parliament alter CofE Measures without the legislation going through the General Synod first? If it can, do the government intend to include an alteration to the Churchwardens Measure and the Church Representation Rules in this Bill?

    • The C of E put out the following tweet this morning at 10.33:

      ‘We are examining the latest #coronavirus advice from the Government and Public Health England and will update resources on the Church of England website early afternoon today. Links will be shared on social media as soon as we are able.’

      As to your question about amending Church Measures, I think the answer must be ‘Yes’. Church Measures are a part of statute law, and given that Parliament is sovereign, if it chooses to amend a Measure by a (secular) statute, I don’t see how that could be reviewable by the courts. (But I’d be interested in the thoughts of those more expert in ecclesiastical and constitutional law than I am!)

  3. Thank you for those useful links.

    It appears the Bishops can sort out the problems which will arise at Parochial Level. However, since the current lay parochial representatives on the Deanery Synods retire on 31 May, if the election of the new members to take office from 1 July does not take place the elections for the House of Laity of the General Synod will have a very small and unrepresentative electorate (unless there is a provision somewhere for the life of the General Synod to be extended beyond five years, to delay the election).

    • “… if the election of the new [Deanery Synod] members to take office from 1 July does not take place the elections for the House of Laity of the General Synod …”
      Is there an answer in CRR 78 “(5) The bishop may … (d) modify the procedure for an election … (7) Where difficulties arise, the bishop may (subject to paragraphs (5) and (6)) give whatever directions he or she considers appropriate for removing those difficulties.”
      In the circumstances could he or she not direct that: (i) everyone on the church electoral roll is deemed to have completed Form M2 for a postal vote; and (ii) notwithstanding CRR M11(2) all elections to deanery synods shall be by postal vote in 2020? Q.E.D?

  4. From the other side of the world, readers may be interested to know that (1) the Australian Prime Minister urged cancellation of all non-essential meetings of 100 or more, (2) the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney has indicated that all services in the diocese will be cancelled from this weekend. “I have decided that the Anglican Church in Sydney should suspend all public church gatherings until further notice”. See .

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