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Scottish church leaders warn SNP of legal action if churches aren’t re-opened during lockdown

by Tola Mbakwe

A group of church leaders in Scotland has sent a letter to the Scottish Government calling on it to reverse lockdown rules which mean that churches have to be closed for corporate worship.

The 30 church leaders from a range of denominations have written that if their request is rejected, they have no choice but to pursue a judicial review.  

The letter sent to the SNP on Friday comes after an open letter from 500 church leaders to Scotland’s First Minister on Monday making the same request.

Friday's pre-action letter states that the church leaders "fully understand the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic and they appreciate that the Scottish Government is required to make difficult decisions as it seeks to take steps to decrease the spread of the virus".

However, the leaders, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, say that they 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 letter argues that the regulations that came into force on 8th January are in violation the European Convention on Human Rights.

It adds that with suitable restrictions in place, public transport, essential shops, professional sport, and the court system continue to function.  Yet, places of worship are closed. 

It continues:” The closure of places of worship and the criminalisation of collective manifestation of religion which takes place under carefully and responsibly controlled conditions goes too far.’

Rev Dr William Philip of the Tron church in Glasgow City Centre, said: “The severe restrictions upon gatherings of churches throughout recent months, and in particular the enforced complete closure to public worship, has brought significant distress, suffering, and ill-health to many in our congregation.

“Many of these are vulnerable people, and the church community serves as a life support for many at this time. We urge the government to reverse these measures urgently.”

Earlier in the week, a Scottish Government spokeswoman defended their decisions to prohibit in-person worship: “We know how tough this decision will be for many people,” she said in a statement.

“However we must take action across society to stop the virus spreading further, so we can protect public health and save lives. This virus can spread anywhere that there is close human contact – without exception. Test and Protect tells us where people were in their 48-hour infectious period.

"So we know that on one day last week the seven-day number for places of worship was 120 and data from yesterday (Monday) shows the seven-day number for places of worship is 38, underlining the essential decision to require places of worship to close for public health reasons.”

The Scottish pre-action letter comes as leaders in England and Wales continue to pursue a judicial review over their respective government’s decision to close churches during the November 2020 Lockdown.

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