Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been warned not to impose controversial vaccine passports on churches in England.
A Government review into “Covid status certification” said they could “potentially play a role” in settings such as theatres, nightclubs and mass events, and might also be used in pubs and restaurants to reduce social distancing restrictions.
The documents would record – either on an NHS app or a paper certificate – whether someone has had a vaccine, a recent negative coronavirus test or natural immunity having recovered from Covid-19.
Christian public policy charity CARE, which represents evangelical churches across the UK, has written to the PM and described the idea as “antithetical to the very nature of the church”.
The letter, sent on Friday, states: “The imposition of vaccine certificates on churches would be most unwelcome and would represent a fundamental undermining of basic freedoms.
“The idea that access to a church should require some special certification is antithetical to the very nature of the church as a place of refuge for the most vulnerable in our society.
“Others have highlighted the prospect of a ‘two-tiered system’. On the one hand, citizens who are vaccinated would be free to go about their lives. On the other, those who are not vaccinated would be barred from certain entitlements.”
The letter cites a recent judicial review overturning the Scottish Government’s decision to ban public worship in Scotland: “The court held that this move was a disproportionate interference with the right to worship enshrined in Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). I put it to you that a decision to effectively ban non-vaccinated citizens from participating in public worship would also represent an unwarranted infringement of Article 9 rights.”
Nola Leach, CEO of CARE, said: “Christians are understandably concerned at the prospect of a vaccine certificate system that would bar people who have not had the vaccine, for whatever reason, from attending church. As my letter to the Prime Minister states, this runs contrary to the ethos and the mission of the church, to welcome people from every corner of society to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“It also makes little sense practically when churches are already abiding by regulations and taking care not to expose visitors to unnecessary risks. I urge the Prime Minister to think about this in the coming weeks, as I know he will be, and provide an assurance to the Christian community in England that the government will not go down this path.”
CARE’s letter comes after 700 UK Christian leaders signed an open letter to Mr Johnson warning him of the negative consequences of vaccine passports on churches and wider society.
Last week, the prime minister insisted that “all possibilities” will be examined to open up the economy as resistance mounts against proposals to introduce coronavirus health certificates.
Labour and the SNP have joined Tory rebels in ruling out backing the proposals as they stand.
But the Prime Minister said it was a responsible approach for any government to “look at the possibility of making sure that we can continue to open up all sectors of the economy in a safe way down the rest of this year.”
Meanwhile, research suggests significant proportions of the UK public have concerns about potential discrimination and surveillance issues surrounding vaccine passports.
Around four in ten adults believe unvaccinated people will be discriminated against, according to research from the University of Bristol and King’s College London.
Some 44 per cent believe vaccine passports will be sold on the black market and a quarter of adults believe vaccine passports would reduce civil liberties, but half disagree.