Scottish Church Closure Deemed Unlawful

The Scottish Government acted unlawfully in closing churches under coronavirus regulations, the Court of Sessions has ruled – just two days before communal worship is due to resume. The BBC has the story.

Coronavirus regulations that forced the closure of churches in Scotland have been deemed unlawful.

A group of 27 church leaders launched a judicial review at the Court of Session arguing the Scottish Government acted beyond their powers under emergency legislation.

Lord Braid agreed the regulations went further than was lawfully allowed. 

The Scottish Government said it would carefully consider the findings and its implications.

The ruling comes two days before communal worship is due to resume.

But Lord Braid said those who brought the judicial review were entitled to have the regulations declared unlawful.

He said the Scottish Government regulations disproportionately interfered with the freedom of religion secured in the European Convention on Human Rights.

He added: “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.”

Earlier this month, the QC who raised this judicial review made the point that communal worship is needed now more than ever.

The petitioners would say that faith is a matter of hope in life and in death and it’s more than mere obedience and that it is essential particularly at a time of national crisis.

Lord Braid has emphasised that his ruling has no bearing on whether or not communal worship is safe, but rather is a comment on the legality of the decision made by the Scottish Government.

I have not decided that all churches must immediately open or that it is safe for them to do so, or even that no restrictions at all are justified.

All I have decided is that the regulations which are challenged in this petition went further than they were lawfully able to do, in the circumstances which existed when they were made.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Christian Concern has hailed this victory for Scottish church leaders, noting that the criminalisation of corporate worship must never happen again.

In an historic judgment, today a judge has ruled that the Scottish Ministers’ decision to ban and criminalise gathered church worship during the current lockdown was unconstitutional and a disproportionate interference of Article 9 ECHR rights.

The ruling is believed to be the first successful legal case against Covid regulations in the UK. 

Handing down judgment, Lord Braid also ruled that online worship is not real Christian worship, stating that it is not for the Scottish Ministers to: “Dictate to the petitioners or to the additional party, that, henceforth, or even for the duration of the pandemic, worship is to be conducted online. That might be an alternative to worship but it is not worship. At very best for the respondents, in modern parlance, it is worship-lite.”

Responding to the ruling, Rev. Dr William Philip, Senior Minister at the Tron Church in Glasgow, said: “We are very pleased that Lord Braid has recognised how essential gathered church worship is to our communities and to Scotland as a whole.

“From the outset we have recognised the serious decisions the Scottish Ministers had to take in response to the pandemic. However, its approach to banning and criminalising gathered church worship was clearly an over-reach and disproportionate and if this had gone unchallenged it would have set a very dangerous precedent.

“However well intentioned, criminalising corporate worship has been both damaging and dangerous for Scotland, and must never happen again.

Worth reading in full.

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