Church leaders threaten legal action if places of worship can’t reopen

Lockdown measures designed to stop the spread of coronavirus have forced the closure of churches and other places of worship.

Church leaders threaten legal action if places of worship can’t reopen Getty Images

Religious leaders have written to the Scottish Government threatening legal action if places of worship are not allowed to reopen.

Lockdown measures designed to stop the spread of coronavirus have forced the closure of churches and other places of worship.

Signatories to the letter, who warn they will pursue a judicial review if they cannot reopen, include representatives from the Free Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) and a number of independent churches.

The Rev. Geoffrey de Bruin, leader of Christian Revival Church Edinburgh, said: “Since the lockdown began, the need for us to provide spiritual and mental support to the many needs in our community has been essential.

“We as a church cannot help or minister to these individuals from an online platform.

“We would need to have the restrictions lifted as a matter of urgency in order to provide the much-needed support our society and community needs during this lockdown.”

Rev. Dr William Philip, leader of the Tron Church in Glasgow, added: “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.”

As part of the latest lockdown rules, places of worship are only permitted to conduct weddings or funerals – with the number of attendees strictly limited – and to broadcast services online.

Communal worship can continue south of the border subject to restrictions on attendance.

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

Church leaders have given Scottish ministers until 5pm on Thursday to respond.

However, not every kirk was in agreement with the proposed action.

The Church of Scotland released a statement saying that threatening legal action was not the right course to take.

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “We do not think threatening legal action is the right course to take when the country is under threat from Covid-19.

“We fully accept that the latest pandemic restrictions mean that we have to close churches again for the time being.

“The vast majority of our members understand and support these temporary restrictions.

“We will continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that reopening churches will happen as soon as it can be done safely.

“We, along with other faith community leaders, encourage people to take measures that will ensure their safety and the safety of others and be vaccinated when the opportunity arises.

“We look forward to the day we can be together again in church.

“In the meantime we are encouraged by the many church congregations across Scotland who are offering essential support – both spiritual and practical – to their local communities.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We know how tough this decision will be for many people. However we must take action across society to stop the virus spreading further, so we can protect public health and save lives.

“The virus transmits when people come together and therefore we have to reduce, as far as possible, the places where they do so – this involves the decision on places of worship, just as it does schools, and workplaces so we can keep the country as safe as possible.

“Instances of Covid-19 connected to places of worship have reduced since introducing these tough measures, so we have an indication they are having an impact. In addition, a number of faith leaders have been broadly supportive of the Scottish Government’s stance.

“We don’t want places of worship to be closed for a moment longer than they have to be.”

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