Covid-19 and religious freedom in Portugal. The failure of a state of law stress test
Under the pretext of covid-19, the collective dimension of the freedom of worship was suspended in Portugal, through a declaration of state of emergency, between March 19 and May 2 2020. This was a gross violation of art.19, paragraph 6, of the Constitution, according to which the state of emergency cannot affect the freedom of religion. The very declarations and renewals of the state of emergency were not based on the legally required scientific advise, as the National Public Health Council (the Government's advisory body on public health matters) was silenced. In fact, lockdowns had several exceptions, but none contemplated religious activities, which was a subversion of the constitutional hierarchy of fundamental rights. When there was no state of emergency, the Government continued to limit fundamental rights through administrative regulations, invoking impertinent legal rules. The reaction of the public authorities to the covid-19 situation constituted a social paradigm shift, without previous scientific support, against the rule of law and with increasingly tragic effects. It was a trend with totalitarian tones – and, as it is well known, hostility to the free exercise of religion is typical of totalitarianism.
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