Coronavirus in Scotland: 28 faith leaders head for court over government decision to close churches

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A judicial review on the Scottish Government's coronavirus evidence that closed places of worship across Scotland will be heard after 28 faith leaders, from a variety of churches, united to take their case to court.

The two-day hearing, which begins on Thursday, will scrutinise why the Scottish Government believed that places of worship should shut, when most churches remained open in other European countries despite the Covid pandemic.

It comes just days after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said restrictions would shortly be lifted for churches and other places of worship ahead of Easter religious festivals.

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Canon Tom White has launched a judicial review into the government's decision to close places of worship.Canon Tom White has launched a judicial review into the government's decision to close places of worship.
Canon Tom White has launched a judicial review into the government's decision to close places of worship.

The Scottish Government has said the ban was put in place to protect public health, with lockdown rules only permitting weddings or funerals – with the number of attendees strictly limited – and the broadcast of services online.

However, lawyers for the faith representatives will argue the regulations are in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Scottish Constitution and there was a lack of evidence that places of worship were Covid hotspots.

One of those taking the judicial review, Canon Tom White, a Catholic priest from St Alphonsus’ Church in Glasgow’s Barras, also said it was vital the court case was still heard to prevent future closure of places of worship should the Covid numbers spike again.

Canon White believes the uncertainty over detailed evidence is key to winning the case. He has said: “The government's own medical advisers conceded in November that there is no robust medical evidence for the closure of churches, which have remained open in most European countries throughout 2021.”

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The case will be heard by Lord Braid alongside an action raised by 27 other individual leaders from a range of denominations, including the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, and the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), who are supported by Christian Concern.

Reverend William Philip, leader of the Tron church in Glasgow city centre, has said the closure of churches affected the poorest and oldest parishioners who were unable to access virtual services and the “significant distress caused” meant legal action had to be pursued.

However, the Church of Scotland has stressed it does not support the legal action and the individual religious representatives were “speaking for themselves” and not for the church.

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