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COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Some Comparative Perspectives

22 May, 2021

by Prof. Dr. Javier Martínez-Torrón, published in Laws, an international, scholarly, peer-reviewed, open access journal of legal systems, theory, and institutions.

This week, Laws published a new article by Javier Martínez-Torrón in it’s Special Issue The Crisis of Religious Freedom in the Age of COVID-19 Pandemic. The following is from the conclusion of Martínez-Torrón’s article, COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Some Comparative Perspectives. You can read the full article here.

“At the beginning of these pages, I mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic has harshly revealed our vulnerability, both as individuals and as community, and has brought to light the best and the worst in us. Depending on whom we look at, we have witnessed incredible acts of altruism, generosity and dedication, in parallel with the desire of taking unfair advantage of the situation—with the latter I refer of course to criminal activities, but we may probably include also the enormous business made with the occasion of medical supplies, protection masks, disinfectants, lab tests, etc., with oscillations in prices that were not certainly moved by philanthropy.

“The foregoing is relevant when we ask ourselves what will remain in our societies after the pandemic passes. What will the world after COVID-19 be like?

“It has been pointed out that, on the positive side, the coronavirus crisis may lead hopefully “to a new sense of community”, considering the feeling of shared responsibility and the many expressions of solidarity generated in a large amount of people during the pandemic, especially in the first months. However, other people have started looking at fellow human beings as a danger, as far as they are potential carriers of the virus, which has led frequently to social distancing—not just physical distancing as a precaution—’as well as growing isolation and loneliness, especially among mentally unstable individuals’. (See Kortmann and Schulze 2021, p. 35).

“At the end of the day, the scientific challenges posed by COVID-19 may be new to a large extent, but when we look for solutions to the social problems it has caused, our best bet is likely on traditional means. From a legal perspective, we need a scrupulous respect for the requirements of the rule of law, with especial emphasis on the protection of fundamental rights, among which is freedom of religion or belief. Every limitation on a fundamental right must be precisely justified and must carefully follow the appropriate procedure, avoiding the temptation to trivialize the guarantee of what are actually the pillars of a democratic society. Allowing that an exceptional health crisis results in a lack of accountability of governments vis-à-vis the citizens would be one of the most undesirable outcomes of the pandemic. And, from a broader social perspective, in addition to the gigantic welfare machinery of the State, we must rely on the traditional resources of society—also its ethical resources, of which religious communities are an integral and essential part.

“Religious freedom is one of the vital freedoms that should not be easily dispensed with, not even in times of emergency, and religious communities—which represent the collective exercise of this fundamental right—are a unique and valuable resource that society has at its disposal to fight against critical threats. These are two lessons that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, and we should take a good note of them for possible future extraordinary crises. If we apply them also to ordinary situations, it would be even better.”

by Javier Martínez-Torrón; Complutense University of Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain; Professor of Law, Complutense University of Madrid; President of LIRCE (Instituto para el Análisis de la Libertad y la Identidad Religiosa, Cultural y Ética). Laws 2021, 10(2), 39; Published: 18 May 2021 (This article belongs to the Special Issue The Crisis of Religious Freedom in the Age of COVID-19 Pandemic)