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Congregation in masks in church covid coronavirus St Andrews Cathedral Glasgow church Credit PA Wire Andrew Milligan.jpg
Congregation in masks in church covid coronavirus St Andrews Cathedral Glasgow church Credit PA Wire Andrew Milligan.jpg
UK News

Scottish ministers face judicial review over lockdown church closure policy

The Scottish ministers' policy banning gathered church worship is to face a full judicial review which could lead to courts ordering the reopening of churches in Scotland.

Lord Braid has granted full permission for a substantive hearing, which will take place remotely on the 11 and 12 March.

It follows a challenge from 27 Scottish church leaders, who come from a range of Christian denominations, including the Free Church of Scotland, the Church of Scotland and a number of independent churches.

The leaders launched the action arguing that the closures are unlawful and claiming they breach Human Rights law and the Scottish constitution. The case is supported by the Christian Legal Centre.

Restrictions were announced by Nicola Sturgeon, on Friday 8 January. The First Minister made it a criminal offence in the highest tiers for churches to hold services in-person.

Those against the restrictions have argued that 'criminalisation of public worship is damaging and dangerous' for the country.

The 27 church leaders sent a pre-action letter to the Scottish Ministers on 15 January, urging them to re-open churches. However, the Scottish Ministers' responded by rejecting the claim and declaring that the state can "regulate the secular activities of Churches for the purposes of protecting public health." They added that churches are compelled to "comply with secular law" and must remain closed.

Lawyers representing church leaders lodged a legal claim for judicial review on 28 January.The Scottish Ministers were given seven days to respond to or challenge the claim. They declined to do so.  

As part of the legal case, the church leaders will seek a 'declarator' that the closure of churches in Scotland are unlawful, that church closure regulations must be reversed and that a person may lawfully leave their home to attend a place of worship without fear of prosecution.

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,"'' as reported by Christian Concern. 

Rev. Dr William Philip, leader of The Tron Church in Glasgow, said in a statement: "Criminalising corporate worship is both damaging and dangerous for Scotland, and we are pleased that this case will be heard in March 2021.
 
"We must care for people as whole human beings, and Covid 19 is not the only threat to health and wellbeing. 

"Our congregation of 500 in the heart of Glasgow is diverse in age and background, including some of the most vulnerable in the city. I have witnessed first-hand huge suffering through lockdown, not least a huge increase in loneliness, misery and untold damage to mental  health. The worst deprivations from this ban are inflicted on the poorest, the neediest, the most vulnerable - now excluded from the comfort and encouragement in life and death only Christian worship can give.

"At a time when we have been forcefully confronted with the fragility of mortal life, we have allowed the message of the eternal to be eclipsed entirely by the earthly in the national consciousness. There is an urgent need for a message of hope and salvation. This is the calling of the Christian Church - especially in dark and difficult days: Jesus Christ is the only hope that dispels all fear, death included."
 

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