- Glasgow priest who joined with 27 faith leaders to challenge COVID-19 worship ban told to expect judgment within 24 hours
- Ruling could declare government’s three-month ban on church services “unlawful”
EDINBURGH (23 March 2021) – Has the Scottish government treated churches unlawfully? A judgment answering this question will be handed down tomorrow by Scotland’s top civil court. While England and countries across Europe kept churches open with appropriate safety measures in place throughout 2021, the Scottish government was one of the only authorities to issue a blanket ban on public worship. A legal challenge to the ban was argued before the court between March 11th-12 by 27 faith leaders, alongside Canon Tom White, a parish priest from one of the most deprived areas of the United Kingdom.
“I took a stand for faith before the court last week because the erasure of the church from public life is severely damaging to the whole community. Alongside physical needs, we each have spiritual needs, which the church must be allowed to attend to for the good of our holistic health. I’m deeply thankful to all who have stood behind me in this important action, both spiritually and financially via my fundraiser. I ask my supporters to join me in prayer tonight for the right decision to be handed down,” said Canon Tom White, ahead of the judgment.
The parish priest of St Alphonsus Church in the Calton area of Glasgow has appealed to the public to support his case via JustGiving, where he has so far raised approximately 35% of the costs he may face.
“An extraordinary abuse of the state’s power”
Arguments were submitted to the court on the behalf of the Glasgow priest by Aidan O’Neill QC, one of Scotland’s leading human rights advocates, who called the ban “an extraordinary abuse of the state’s power”.
“In the Catholic tradition, Churches are themselves sacred spaces…having Churches open, just to go into, to light a candle, to pray…is absolutely central to the manifestation of the right to worship,” said Aidan O’Neill QC.
“[The blanket ban] has a fundamental chilling impact on worship and belief. It requires people in good conscience to choose between God and Caesar,” he continued.
The QC pointed to the fact that other, secular businesses – including dry cleaners, off-licenses and bicycle shops – had been supported to remain open during lockdown, while churches had been forced to close. The decision, he contended, had not taken into consideration the “obvious” adverse impact of closure of churches on mental health, including isolation and loneliness, but instead was calculated on the economic benefit of secular businesses as opposed to places of worship.
Human rights organisation ADF UK has supported Canon Tom’s legal challenge, calling the government’s ban on worship “disproportionate”.
“It is important for the Court to decide whether this ban was ever truly justified – especially as there is a good chance such measures could be repeated in the future. With countries across Europe having found solutions to allowing Churches to open while safeguarding public health throughout lockdowns, it is unclear why Holyrood were unable to protect the rights of those whose need for spiritual nourishment is as vital as food and water,” said Ryan Christopher, Director of ADF UK.