Some 27 church leaders in Scotland are suing the Scottish government and asking that the courts review pandemic lockdown orders that have closed churches.
According to the claim from the church leaders, lockdown restrictions have “criminalize(ed) public worship” and are “in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights [Articles 9 and 11] and the Scottish Constitution.”
The government order makes it “a criminal offense in the highest tiers for churches to hold services in-person and, for example, to conduct baptisms.”
The group of church leaders sent a letter to the Scottish Ministers in mid-January after new lockdown orders took effect on Jan. 8 in Scotland.
“The Scottish Ministers have failed to appreciate that the closure of places of worship is a disproportionate step, and one which has serious implications for freedom of religion,” they wrote. “Scotland is the only nation in the United Kingdom that has closed places of worship at this present time and this action is also out of step with the restrictions that have been put in place in other countries.”
In response, the Scottish Government Legal Directorate said the Scottish Ministers “can rightly take” the steps it had amid the pandemic.
“It is open to the state to regulate the secular activities of Churches including, as here, for the purposes of protecting public health,” the letter said.
“The Scottish Ministers were entitled to make the decision they did to serve their public health objectives,” the letter added.
The church leaders say they are worried that many people need in-person worship services during the pandemic.
“We think churches being open is not only a human right or a Scottish constitutional matter, but is one of the most vitally important ways our society can respond to this pandemic,” said Rev. Nathan Owens from Maxwell Church in Kilmaurs.
In many cases, churches have “followed a number of guidelines given by the government in order to protect health and safety,” said Pastor John William-Noble of Grace Baptist Church in Aberdeen.
“Churches have demonstrated that they are one of the most COVID-secure parts of society,” he said.