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'It's a matter of our civil rights': Christian leaders say closure of UK churches is 'unlawful'

by Heather Preston

A group of Christian leaders and Bishops from across the UK are urging the Government to re-open churches, arguing that their forced closure interferes with religious freedom.

A letter signed by a number of prominent church leaders says the ban on places of worship is both "unlawful and unnecessary".

The coalition has criticised the Government for not prioritising churches in its lockdown 'exit-strategy' and argued that the banning of church services should be a matter for church authorities rather than the state. 

The pre-action letter, supported by Christian Concern states: "There is no precedent for state legislation which in any manner limits and/or criminalises church services or sacraments."

Whilst stressing that they are open to a "constructive dialogue", the religious coalition has threatened a judicial review into the decision if the Government fails to reconsider lifting the ban.

Former chaplain to the Queen Dr. Gavin Ashenden is one of the letter's signatories. He told Premier churches must open as a "matter of civil rights and our moral Christian duty".

He said: "The Christian community belongs to God. Those who are Christians recognise we have our lives from God - He's our first priority. He has our first allegiance.  As Christians we owe him our love, our prayers and it's the duty to meet together when we can.

"And for those of us who are traditional Catholic Christians, the sacraments are also enormously important. You can't take the sacrament non-physically."

On Saturday, two of England's most senior scientists expressed concern that measures to ease the current lockdown were happening too early. Schools and outdoor markets can reopen from Monday, despite new cases and deaths still being reported each day.

When asked if he felt the re-opening of churches would pose a risk to public safety Ashenden said: "In the middle of a medical emergency, you obviously have to temper what you do in order to love your neighbour, but the medical emergency has passed.

"We've been told to follow the science all this time. Well, let us follow the science - socially distance and open the churches.

"For the first time in 1000 years, the churches have been locked in this country worshippers, they never should have been. And there is certainly no need now and they must be opened

Other signatories of the letter include: Rev Ade Omooba MBE and Dr David Muir, Co-Chairs of the National Church Leaders Forum, A Black Christian Voice; Rev. David Hathaway, President, Eurovision Mission to Europe; Revd Dr Brad Norman, Salvation For The Nations Intl. Churches; Chris Demetriou, Senior Pastor, Cornerstone; Bishop Lovel Bent, Presiding Bishop, Connections Trust; Pastor Sunday Okenwa, Regional Overseer, Deeper Christian Life Ministry; Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, President, Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue; Canon Yaqub Masih MBE, Secretary General, UK Asian Christians; Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Senior Pastor, Kingsway International Christian Centre; Bishop Alfred Williams, Presiding Bishop, Christ Faith Tabernacle International Churches; Rev. David Hathaway, President, Eurovision Mission to Europe and Dennis Greenidge, Senior Pastor, Worldwide Mission Fellowship.

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