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Scottish government announces concessions as legal challenge to worship ban set to begin

  • Amid mounting pressure, Government announces places of worship to open in time for Easter
  • Case of Glasgow Priest continues with hope of preventing “unconstitutional” worship ban from being reimposed in the future

EDINBURGH (10th March 2021) – The Glasgow Priest who is raising financial support from members of the public to challenge the government’s COVID-19 worship ban is preparing for his hearing at Scotland’s top civil court on Thursday 11th- Friday 12th March. The case, supported by human rights group ADF UK, will determine whether the government’s worship ban is disproportionate.

Top human rights advocate Aidan O’Neill QC will argue before Scotland’s highest court that the “draconian regulation” is “unconstitutional” and “incompatible” with the European Convention on Human Rights, going “far beyond what is reasonable”.

Canon White’s parish includes three of the most deprived areas of the UK and it is these people who he seeks to serve in taking this challenge forward. The parish priest of St Alphonsus Church in the Calton area of Glasgow is facing significant legal costs and is continuing fundraising efforts on JustGiving. Members of the public have already given approximately 30% of the total costs he could face.

Concessions from government

Only days before the landmark hearing is due to begin, the government announced yesterday that places of worship, which had been set to reopen on 4th April, will now reopen on 26th March, in time for Easter, Passover and Ramadan.

Though welcoming the concession, human rights experts affirm that it is necessary for the case to nevertheless proceed, in order to prevent the disproportionate suspension of fundamental freedoms in the future.

“While the decision to eventually reopen churches after almost three months is a step in the right direction, it is important for the Court to decide whether this ban was truly justified – especially as there is a good chance such measures could be repeated in the future. The government’s own medical advisors 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. There is no clear reason why the Scottish government could not find solutions which protect both the vulnerable and those who understand their communal worship to be as essential as food and water” said Ryan Christopher, Director of ADF UK, responding to the Scottish government’s announcement.

The new rules will end the blanket ban after almost three months. Authorities in England, on the other hand, have upheld freedom of worship despite their other restrictions this year, whilst managing public health concerns.

“I’m deeply grateful to the Christian and wider community across Scotland and the whole United Kingdom who have generously given their financial support, as well as words of great encouragement, to my legal challenge,”, said Canon Tom White.

“Freedom of worship is a human right, and receiving the sacraments is as vital to me and my parishioners as receiving food and water. As St Matthew’s Gospel tells us, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone’. The court must decide if this right was suspended in an unnecessary and disproportionate manner, in order to prevent further undue restrictions in future. I invite all Christians to pray with me over the coming days, that the right decision will be made, and Church doors once again opened throughout our country,” he continued.

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