Antigone’s Protest and the Covid Crisis: Freedom astride Faith and Health

The restrictions on human movements put into place by states in response to the 2020 global outbreak of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 have disrupted every category of society, not least religion and law. Freedom of religion has been pitted against right to health across several categories. Areas of conflict such as the prohibition of holding church mass and the closing of churches have been fairly easy to reconcile against the greater weight of the right to health and safety. There is one area of conflict that seems to give pause, however, to even those most supportive of the current need for public restrictions: the handling of the moment of death and the funeral rites and rituals that typically follow. I would like to compare Italy, as the seat of the Catholic church and the first Western country struck by the pandemic, and the US, the country currently most affected by the virus at the time of this writing, and itself frequently at the center of religious freedom debates. I will explore the question: have state regulations imposed as part of efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 specifically around death and funeral rites resulted in violations of religious freedom? If religious positions, specifically those of the Abrahamic faiths, are understood comprehensively with reference to their dogmatic origins, does the possibility for such a violation exist? I will argue that beyond a balancing of interests, the true relationship between state sponsored protective measures and religious understandings of right practice for human flourishing is one of harmony, making the violation of religious freedom, even at the most fraught moment of death, categorically impossible.

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