A group of Scottish church leaders has launched a claim for judicial review over the Scottish Minsters’ decision to ban in-person worship during lockdown.
The 27 church leaders are from a range of Christian denominations, including the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), the Free Church of Scotland, and other independent churches.
They are supported by the Christian Legal Centre and claim that the closures breach European Convention of Human Rights law and the Scottish constitution.
The church leaders sent a pre-action letter to the Scottish Ministers on 15th January, urging them to re-open churches. They claimed that the regulations stop them from supporting the material, emotional and spiritual needs in their congregations and communities.
They also said that they understand the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic and the difficult decisions the Scottish Government has had to take, but believe the Scottish Ministers’ have “failed to appreciate that the closure of places of worship is a disproportionate step, and one which has serious implications for freedom of religion.”
The Scottish Ministers’ responded by saying the state can “regulate the secular activities of Churches…for the purposes of protecting public health’ ”and that churches are compelled to ‘comply with secular law’ and therefore must remain closed.
The Christian Legal Centre said: “This statement conflicts directly with the long-established and traditional authority Scottish churches have had over their own affairs, free from state interference. This is enshrined in the 1592 Act, the 1706 Act for Securing Protestant Religion and the Church of Scotland Act 1921.”
In the claim, the church leaders: “hold that public corporate worship, involving the physical gathering together of Christians… are fundamental and indispensable aspects of their religion”, and argue that “in the absence of the gathered people of God, there is effectively no “church.”’
The Scottish Ministers' have seven days to respond.
Rev Dr William Philip, leader of the Tron church in Glasgow City Centre, said: “We are able to do some things remotely via broadcasting, but many - especially the poorest, the oldest, and those most vulnerable - have no access to this.
“They are excluded completely from the possibility of Christian worship, and the comfort and encouragement in life and death only this can give.
“Due to the severe restrictions upon gatherings and significant distress this has caused, we have faced no alternative but to pursue legal action.”
The Church of Scotland has said it doesn't think threatening legal action against the Scottish Government, if places of worship cannot reopen, is the right course to take when "the country is under threat from Covid 19."