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Faith Leaders in Uganda Sue Government for COVID-19 Ban on Public Worship

The Flag of Uganda. Credit: Shutterstock

Representatives of a Christian church and Muslim community in Uganda have filed a law suit against the country over the suspension of in-person worship as part of the COVID-19 restrictions.

The suit that is supported by the Alliance Defending Freedom, ADF International, a faith-based legal advocacy organization, seeks to overturn the continued suspension of public worship reimposed by the country’s  President, Yoweri Museveni, on July 30. 

“People of different faiths are now standing up to ensure that their rights are protected in Uganda,” the Legal Counsel, Global Religious Freedom for ADF International, Sean Nelson, has been quoted as saying in a Thursday, August 5 report. 

Mr. Nelson adds, “The government must find ways to protect public health, while also upholding the right to live out one’s faith in community with others.”

According to the ADF International official, the ban on public worship is discriminatory as places of commerce including malls are open to the public. 

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He says, “People of faith are no more contagious than their peers – there is no clear reason why a large, spacious church should be forced shut, but malls and arcades are open.”

“There is no clear reason why faith groups have had to clear higher operational hurdles throughout this year than places of commerce,” Mr. Nelson says. 

He adds that the freedom of religion and belief, which is enshrined in Uganda’s Constitution “is a foundational human right” and should only be limited “to the extent that it is necessary for a legitimate, proportionate, and non-discriminatory reason.”

On July 30, the Ugandan President announced a partial lifting of the lockdown after the 42 days, following recommendations from the members of the National Covid Taskforce and the Scientific Advisory Committee, Daily Monitor, a Ugandan publication, reported.

President Museveni also gave the go ahead for commercial motorcycle riders to operate while carrying one passenger. 

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The Head of State also announced that learning institutions with exception of medical schools, and places of worship, would remain closed for in-person gatherings for a period of 60 days. 

The East African nation has recorded at least 95,226 cases of COOVID-19 including 2,771 deaths and 88,502recoveries.

In the August 5 report, Agnes Namaganda, a member of the Christian fellowship supporting legal action says it has “been difficult to see my community deprived of access to public worship at a time when we need it most.”

“At this hard moment for our country, the government must remember that we don’t only have physical needs, but spiritual needs, too. I’m glad to stand with my church, with support from ADF International, in challenging this disproportionate, unnecessary, and draconian restriction on freedom of worship,” says Ms. Namaganda.

Muslim representative, Imam Bbaale Muhammed also questions why the people of faith to whom “public worship is as essential as taking food and water” are being treated “as more contagious” than others. 

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“Under the current regulations, those who want to shop may visit the mall, and those who want to eat out may go to a restaurant; yet there is no place of worship open for those who want to practice their religion,” the Ugandan Imam laments.

While it is important to keep Ugandans safe, the Muslim leader says, “This can and must be done while also upholding the right to gather for worship.”