On Good Friday, British police officers demanded that worshippers at Christ the King Polish Catholic Church in London vacate church immediately or receive fines and even imprisonment. The police officers noted that the Good Friday Liturgy was “unlawful” due to a larger presence of the faithful, and that while the officers “appreciated” that people would like to worship on Good Friday, the service was dangerous. A cursory glance at video footage reveals that everyone on camera was wearing a mask, suggesting that worshippers were conscious of protecting each other. While it is unclear how many people were present — and what level of an infraction their presence constituted — the municipal police department grossly overreached its authority and threatened the religious rights of Christians on one of the holiest days in the Church’s calendar.
Efforts to curtail the spread of COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable are laudatory — and in some cases, these efforts have worked. But events like the police raid in London reveal that too often governments have used the health crisis to stymie the rights of the faithful — and, perhaps even worse — have imposed their own ideas of what constitutes “appropriate” worship. This disingenuous path can only lead to further governmental encroachment on the faithful’s obligation and right to worship God in the way He has revealed.
It is important to obey reasonable health guidelines equally applied across communities. But when those measures begin to discriminate against religious groups specifically, and determine what is permissible or impermissible worship, they seriously threaten religious freedom and basic principles of justice.