Hundreds of church leaders have called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to institute vaccine passports.
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.
As of Friday morning more than 500 UK Christian leaders had signed an open letter to Mr Johnson expressing their opposition to the public having to prove their Covid-19 status.
They said vaccine passports, which the Government has also referred to as Covid certificates and freedom passes made “no logical sense”.
“If the vaccines are highly effective in preventing significant disease, as seems to be the evidence from trial results to date, then those who have been vaccinated have already received protection; there is no benefit to them of other people being vaccinated,” the letter states.
The letter also questions the morality of vaccine passports and the risk of creating division in society.
“The introduction of vaccine passports would constitute an unethical form of coercion and violation of the principle of informed consent,” it continued.
“People may have various reasons for being unable or unwilling to receive vaccines currently available including, for some Christians, serious issues of conscience related to the ethics of vaccine manufacture or testing. We risk creating a two-tier society, a medical apartheid in which an underclass of people who decline vaccination are excluded from significant areas of public life. There is also a legitimate fear that this scheme would be the thin end of the wedge leading to a permanent state of affairs in which COVID vaccine status could be expanded to encompass other forms of medical treatment and perhaps even other criteria beyond that.”
It adds that a vaccine passport scheme could be the end of “liberal democracy” in the UK and would create a society in which the government uses technology to control specific aspects of people’s lives.
“As such, this constitutes one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics,” the letter said.
Another reason for the leaders’ objection to vaccine passports is in regards to how it would impact churches.
The letter says churches would never want to turn someone away because they don’t have a vaccine passport, negative test certificate, or any other “proof of health”.
It continued: “For the Church of Jesus Christ to shut out those deemed by the state to be social undesirables would be anathema to us and a denial of the truth of the Gospel. The message we preach is given by God for all people and consists in nothing other than the free gift of grace offered in Christ Jesus, with the universal call to repentance and faith in him. To deny people entry to hear this life-giving message and to receive this life-giving ministry would be a fundamental betrayal of Christ and the Gospel. Sincere Christian churches and organisations could not do this, and as Christian leaders we would be compelled to resist any such Act of Parliament vigorously.”
The letter asks the prime minister to take into account a recent Judicial Review that ruled the Scottish Government’s ban on in-person worship was illegal due to violating Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
“We cannot see how any attempt to prevent people gathering for worship on the basis of either testing or non-vaccination would not similarly be ruled to be a breach. We agree with those members of Parliament who have already voiced opposition to this proposal: that it would be divisive, discriminatory and destructive to introduce any such mandatory health certification into British society. We call on the government to assert strongly and clearly that it will not contemplate this illiberal and dangerous plan, not now and not ever,” the letter concludes.
Mr Johnson has 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 on Wednesday 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.
Listen to Premier's interview with Rev Dr William JU Philip, who co-authored the open letter: