Ministers face judicial review over church lockdown closures

Religious leaders believe church closures are unlawful as they 'breach human rights law and the Scottish constitution'.

Ministers face judicial review over church lockdown closures PA Media

The Scottish Government is facing a judicial review over the closure of churches after religious leaders launched legal proceedings.

Representatives from a range of Christian denominations including the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), the Free Church of Scotland, and a number of independent churches launched the action stating that the closures are unlawful as they breach human rights law and the Scottish constitution.

Lockdown measures designed to stop the spread of coronavirus have forced places of worship to shut.

Lawyers for the religious leaders said that Lord Braid has now granted full permission for a substantive hearing next month, which they said could result in the courts ordering Scottish ministers to allow churches to reopen.

The Rev Dr William Philip, leader of the Tron church in Glasgow, said: “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.”

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 church leaders sent a pre-action letter to Scottish ministers on January 15 urging them to reopen churches, and lodged the legal claim for judicial review on January 28.

As part of the legal case, the church leaders will seek a “declarator” that the closure of churches in Scotland is 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.

The case will be heard remotely on March 11 and 12.

The Rev Geoffrey de Bruin, leader at Christian Revival Church Edinburgh, said: “This is now a crucial moment for the freedom of the church in Scotland.

“The closure of churches is a breach of the historic principle of the separation of church and state which is enshrined in the Scottish constitution.”

However not every denomination is in agreement with the move.

A Church of Scotland spokeswoman said: “We do not think 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.”

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