Covid Churches: Scottish Govermnent’s decision to close places of worship ‘unlawful’

By Jody Harrison

Coronavirus regulations that force the closure of churches in Scotland and criminalise public worship have been deemed unlawful.

A group of 27 church leaders launched a judicial review at the Court of Session arguing Government ministers acted out with their powers when ordering the closure of places of worship under emergency legislation.

Judge Lord Braid issued his judgment on Wednesday, saying that the Scottish Government can’t ‘dictate’ to Christians to accept ‘worship lite’ ways of praising God during the pandemic.

He fouind the regulations were unlawful as they disproportionately interfered with the freedom of religion secured in the European Convention on Human Rights (EHRC).

READ MORE: Glasgow priest Canon Tom White joins legal action against Scottish Government over lockdown rules

However, he stopped short of saying Churches could reopen immediately, saying that 

Lord Braid: “It is impossible to measure the effect of those restrictions on those who hold religious beliefs.

“It goes beyond mere loss of companionship and an inability to attend a lunch club.

“The fact that the regulations are backed by criminal sanctions is also a relevant consideration.

“Were the petitioners to insist on manifesting their beliefs, in accordance with their religion, they would be liable to be met with a fine of up to £10,000, a not insignificant penalty.

“The above factors all point towards the conclusion that the regulations have a disproportionate effect.”

Lord Braid added: “There are however other factors which point the other way, not least the severity of Covid-19 and the threats posed by the new variant, which I do not underplay in the slightest.

“This factor deserves considerable weight.

“The need to avoid the NHS being overwhelmed is another factor, although if I am correct in saying that the risk is reduced to an insignificant extent by the regulations, this factor attracts less weight.

“The fact that much public opinion, including that of other faiths and church leaders, supports the closures is also a relevant consideration, which I thought initially might carry some weight.

“However, I have concluded that it does not, for a number of reasons.”

Additional party Canon Tom White’s argument that the regulations were disproportionate on constitutional grounds was also found to be the case by the judge.

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