The Scottish Government acted outwith its constitutional powers by ordering churches to close, a court has been told.
Communal worship has been banned under coronavirus legislation, however, the First Minister has announced it will be able to restart from Friday March 26, and the previously proposed limit on congregations of 20 will be increased to 50.
At a virtual hearing of the Court of Session on Thursday, the group of 27 church leaders launched a judicial review to argue Ministers acted outwith their powers by ordering the closures and are continuing their case to prevent instances in future.
Janys Scott QC, representing the group, said: “If one of my 27 ministers were to open their place of worship, they would be a criminal, and if a member of a congregation were to leave their home to attend worship, that is not permitted.
“Not only is the exercise of Christian ministry – in accordance with the scriptures – a crime, a police officer in the execution of his duty can break up a church service.
“That’s rather an alarming proposition.”
The court was told there is a constitutional settlement separating the powers of the church and state.
She added: “The reality of this settlement is that in banning public cooperative worship, this government has undoubtedly crossed a line of that which is the exclusive domain of the church.
“That which the government has done doesn’t affect the church, that which the Scottish Ministers purported to do is outwith their powers.”
She added: “Albeit [this] might seem shocking to a modern ear, this is what the law says.”
The court heard petitioners believe its ability to worship in the way it sees fit is “at least as important as food”.
Ms Scott accepted the state could give guidance on numbers who should assemble – which leaders were willing to follow – but it could not impose restrictions.
She said: “As Christians, their primary obedience is to God – not to the state.
“There’s a fundamental obedience in regular, communal, public worship.
“Christians have died in the defence of public worship of the church and Christians continue to die to defend public worship of the church.”
It was heard petitioners “stand on the shoulders of covenanters” with some accounts reporting 18,000 had died during the 1680s to “defend the church from interference of the state” in Scotland.
The hearing before judge Lord Braid continues.