A Glasgow priest challenging the Scottish government's blanket ban on public worship is to have his arguments heard in court.
Canon Tom White, supported by human rights group ADF UK, has joined with a similar case filed by leaders from a variety of protestant denominations. The Canon will put forward his concerns at a judicial review scheduled for 11th-12th March at the Court of Session.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday that churches in Scotland will be opening earlier than originally planned, on Friday 26th March.
They were due to open on Monday 5th April, a day after Easter Sunday.
Speaking to Premier, the Canon said he's questioning why a decision was made in the first place to shut places of worship when the scientific evidence was limited:
"What seems to be evident from the materials which my own legal team are putting before the court today is that there was no science to back up the decision.
"The scientific advice given to the government, and even some of the material which we've got under freedom information, which even suggests that it was the First Minister who took that decision to close places of worship. And the First Minister needs to be held to account, the government needs to be held to account. Because there is no science when they closed churches, from the freedom of information request I got, they had so far only traced in Scotland one outbreak in one church in Lanarkshire involving two people."
The challengers will point to the relative freedoms enjoyed by Christians living in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, where churches have been allowed to remain open with protective measures in place, and question why Holyrood has taken a more extreme and restrictive approach.
Canon White added: "And ironically… the church has adapted to streaming mass to try, I suppose, nourish people by the wor,d but certainly they've not been nourished by the sacrament. And this Sunday what happened? It wasn't lost in me, coming from my faith tradition, which is the Catholic tradition, in the very boundaries of my parish 405 years ago, Wednesday, we celebrated the feast of Saint John Ogilvie. John Ogilvie was martyred and hung at Glasgow cross for celebrating the Eucharist. And here we have 405 years later, in the same city, and the same parish, if I opened the doors of my church, I would have been committing a crime. That's frightening."
Canon White and the other faith leaders will also question why certain businesses were given clearance to open while places of worship faced a blanket ban. Unlike attending a bank or a factory or bicycle repair shop, freedom of worship is a fundamental right.
He added he hopes the court will treat his case differently to one brought by the hospitality industry:
"Last year, the hospitality industry took the Scottish Government to task and they were not successful. And I think we have to see that the exercise of one's freedom to exercise the faith and their beliefs is very different from leisure or retail. But the courts refuse to consider the matter further, because the lockdown had been lifted - they said it was academic, this is more than about not only the past, it's about the future. And the government needs to be very, very careful about people's rights and freedoms for religion and they can't treat us like sub-retail."
"It's vital that the court determine whether the three-month suspension of all public worship was disproportionate, and, if so, prevent this extreme step from being taken again in the future," he added.
The Canon is fundraising for the case on a JustGiving page.