The High Court of Kerala on Friday considered a writ petition which sought directions to permit the opening of churches with 25% occupancy in the wake of relaxations granted to lockdown.
The petitioner, one Saju Joseph, submitted that as most restrictions have been lifted, regulated visit of devotees in churches should be permitted.
The bench observed that the state was not yet free from the threat of COVID-19 pandemic, and that the religious rights of congregations should make way for "larger public interest".
'Virtual churches' are functioning anyways, remarked Justice Shaji P Chaly, who was heading the bench. No devotee was affected by closure as the visuals of the ceremonies are accessible online, the judge added.
In reply, Advocate V Philip Mathew, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that devotees are no able to receive 'holy communion' due to closure of the churches.
Churches can maintain strict norms of social distancing, added the counsel.
The bench observed that it would be practically difficult to ensure the compliance of such norms. "Can police officers be deputed for that?", asked the bench.
The Centre and the State Government objected to the plea, and pointed out that the lockdown guidelines do not give any exemption for religious functions and gatherings.
Not inclined to pass any positive directions, the bench, also comprising Justice M R Anitha, adjourned the hearing till May 18.
The petitioner will be at liberty to make representation before the authorities with respect to the prayer in the petition, clarified the bench.