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Revise health guidelines on Churches, places of worship – Anglican Church

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The Church in statement issued under the hand of Bishop of Kurunegala Rt. Rev. Keerthisiri Fernando Presiding Bishop of Church of Ceylon and Bishop of Colombo Rt. Rev. Dushantha Rodrigo said the regulations lacks a rational basis and is disproportionate and discriminatory against minority religions in particular.

Full statement:The Church of Ceylon (The Anglican Church in Sri Lanka) expresses its deep concern at the anomalies and inconsistencies in the regulations on COVID and public health issued recently.

The regulations permit schools, clubs, gyms, restaurants, cinemas and various other entities to open subject to certain restrictions but retains an almost blanket prohibition on the opening of churches and places of religious observance. This is in our view lacks a rational basis, is arbitrary, disproportionate and discriminatory against minority religions in particular.

If students can gather in classrooms; people engaged in sport and leisure activities gather in small places and share equipment; if people can exercise in confined and air conditioned spaces or watch films and other forms of entertainment in enclosed air conditioned auditoriums; how can one take the view that a gathering of people for an hour or two in a church or similar building for communal worship subject to the requirements of social distancing, limited numbers and other standard safety precautions, poses a public health risk?

The illogical and unreasonable restrictions promulgated in the recent set of guidelines, therefore, violate the rights of members of our Church as well as the rights of many other people of all faiths who have been unreasonably denied their right to manifest their freedom of religion and belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching as provided for in Article 14 (1) e of the Constitution.

We are compelled to issue this statement as several letters addressed to the relevant authorities seeking clarification on this matter have received no response. We recognize the need for restrictions on certain activities in the interests of public health to deal with the pandemic. However, such restrictions cannot be arbitrary and discriminatory in terms of their effect and must be reasonable and have a public health rationale.

We call upon the Government to revise their health guidelines to permit religious worship subject to general restrictions on social distancing, numbers based on a percentage of full capacity and other relevant health and safety protocols.

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