Corona restrictions on worship services held to be lawful

Cologne Administrative Court rules in favour of Oberbergischer Kreis (county) with Redeker Sellner Dahs acting as counsel

Bonn, 19 March 2021. Cologne Administrative Court yesterday rejected an action by two church congregations against restrictions imposed by County Oberberg on religious services and other gatherings for the practice of religion. The Court rejected the submission for a temporary injunction. The general administrative order issued by County Oberberg is presumably lawful.

Due to the current pandemic situation and the rapid spread of the coronavirus, County Oberberg issued a general decree limiting the number of participants for religious services and other gatherings to practice religion: there must be 10 square metres of space per participant, while the total number of persons is limited to 100 participants.

These religious events may not last longer than 90 minutes. Two congregations in the district had filed an injunctive action against this decree before Cologne Administrative Court, arguing that the arrangements disproportionately encroached on their religious freedom. They contended that there was no need for the restrictions because the epidemiological situation had eased. Moreover, the County was not authorised to take measures that went beyond the requirements of the Land North Rhine‑​Westphalia laid down in the Corona Protection Ordinance (Coronaschutzverordnung).

Cologne Administrative Court did not agree. According to the Court, further‑​going measures by County authorities were permissible within the framework of the North Rhine‑​Westphalia Corona Protection Ordinance. Hence, government authorities were authorised to order protective measures that went beyond the Ordinance in individual cases. Moreover, the Court held the measures to be proportionate. Freedom of religion was not a guarantee void of any limits, with constraining limits to this freedom existing wherever other legal interests protected by the Constitution were worthy of protection, namely in this case the fundamental right to life and physical integrity laid down in Article 2.2 of the Basic Law (the German Constitution). In view of the continuing danger posed by the coronavirus, which has mounted once again in recent weeks, it was reasonable in the view of the Court for the supplicants to accept temporary restrictions.

Serving as counsel for County Oberberg in these proceedings is the Redeker Sellner Dahs law firm. Redeker Sellner Dahs is one of the leading law firms practicing in the field of infection control law, which is directly applicable in the corona pandemic. 17 lawyers from the firm are authors in the most comprehensive commentary Eckart/​Winkelmüller, Beck'scher Kommentar zum Infektionsschutzrecht. The proceedings were conducted on behalf of the County by the attorneys Dr Michael Winkelmüller and Dr Moritz Gabriel.

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