Covid-19: Church services still prohibited, Judiciary says

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Chief Justice David Maraga, chairperson of the National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ), addresses the media outside the Supreme Court premises on April 21, 2020 regarding effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. PHOTO COURTESY

The High Court has asked churches to explore alternative forms of worship, such as broadcasting their services online, during the coronavirus pandemic.

The government’s move to ban public gatherings in efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19 affected churches and came with protests, with some religious leaders saying they could hold services with all restrictions in place.

Three pastors moved to court to challenge the directive and there were reports on Thursday that their prayer had been granted.

The petitioners asked the High Court to allow resumption of services, and have the government issue guidelines for the community to adhere to.

REGULATIONS

In a statement on Friday, the Judiciary clarified the court’s ruling, noting that Justice Aaron Makau said services should only be held without contravening any rules set by the government.

It noted that a prayer by pastors Don Mutugi, Joan Miriti and Alex Gichunge, in a petition filed at the Constitutional and Huma Rights Division, was not granted.

In his ruling, Justice Makau said, “Pending the hearing and determination  of this case, I direct alternative forms of worship such as broadcasting the church service, without breach  of any government regulations or directives currently in force, do proceed through online or social media platform that can be accessed.”

The Judiciary said this statement did not mean that churches could hold gatherings or act contrary to the directives by the government.

PASTORS’ ARGUMENTS

In the suit, the pastors acknowledge measures put in place by the government to stop the spread but argue that as the pandemic worsens, Kenyans will look to churches for solace.

They are protesting the directive against social gatherings that saw closure of churches, saying it was reached without consultations with relevant stakeholders.

They also say the State imposed the curfew and the restriction on gatherings without consulting the church.

Had consultations taken place, the petitioners say, the public would have been sufficiently educated on social distancing and proper hygiene, peace and unity would have been promoted and food drives would have been held for the sake of the less fortunate.

“The petitioners [and] other believers are in no way approaching this court in efforts to spread the coronavirus. Their sole wish is to congregate whilst adhering to the directive issued,” said their lawyer John Swaka.

He added, “The church’s role in such times is to give hope amid the crisis not only in this country but also in the world at large. They humbly seek the intervention of the court since their rights and freedoms are being infringed.”

The case will be mentioned on May 5.