- Glasgow Priest’s challenge joins protestant churches’ case against public worship ban, now in place until April
- Canon Tom speaks out ahead of hearing, scheduled 11th-12th March
GLASGOW (24 February 2021) – Canon Tom White, the Glasgow Priest challenging the Scottish government’s blanket ban on public worship, has moved his case into the court room. The challenge, supported by human rights group ADF UK, has been joined with a similar case filed by leaders from a variety of protestant denominations.
“I think we can all agree at this time that it’s very, very important that we keep each other safe, and that we keep our local communities safe; but as Christians, we acknowledge that we not only have physical needs, but spiritual needs. We need to make sure that we’re not neglecting our spiritual needs. This is really, truly essential for the wider holistic health of ourselves as a society,” said Canon Tom White, in a new video statement.
Together with faith leaders of other denominations, his arguments will be heard at a hearing scheduled for 11th-12th March 2021. They are seeking judicial review of the Scottish government’s “disproportionate” ban on public worship.
The protestant movement to restore public worship is led by individual leaders from a range of denominations, including the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, and the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), and is supported by Christian Concern.
Legal experts warn that blanket ban is disproportionate and detrimental
The Glasgow Priest has joined with legal experts from ADF UK to launch the “Let Us Worship” campaign, which is gathering signatures of support from the public.
“Freedom of religion is a foundational human right. This right should be limited only to the extent that is necessary and proportionate. 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.
Open churches in England, Wales, NI, but not Scotland
The challengers will point to the relative freedoms enjoyed by Christians living in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, where churches have been allowed to remain open with protective measures in place, and question why Holyrood has taken a more extreme and restrictive approach.
Canon White and the other faith leaders will also question why certain businesses were given clearance to open while places of worship faced a blanket ban. Unlike attending a bank or a factory or bicycle repair shop, freedom of worship is a fundamental right.
The fact that historically–divergent denominations are jointly calling for an end to the total ban on public worship is significant. In joining the case made by protestant leaders, the parish priest of St Alphonsus’ church in Calton brings particular arguments relating to the sanctity of receiving the eucharist for members of the Catholic faith.
“We’ve seen the government allow bicycle shops and dry-cleaners to open throughout the current lockdown, whilst my grieving community has had no access to their church or the sacraments – an essential source of comfort, hope and spiritual nourishment,” said Canon White.
“It’s vital that the court determine whether the three-month suspension of all public worship was disproportionate, and, if so, prevent this extreme step from being taken again in the future,” he continued.
Challenge continues after ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ reveals church may remain closed until April
The Canon’s hope of overturning the ban continues after Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement last week that places of worship can “we hope, restart around 5 April, albeit with restricted numbers to begin with.”
“While the decision to eventually reopen churches in April is a step in the right direction, it is nevertheless important for the Court to decide whether this three-month ban was truly justified – especially as there is a good chance such measures could be repeated in the future,” said Ryan Christopher, Director of ADF UK, responding to the Scottish government’s announcement.
The new rules will end the blanket ban after a full 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.
“The Scottish government’s plan to reopen church doors from April is welcome progress, but it does not rectify the unjust blanket ban on public worship that is still in force and has been in place for months – particularly at a time of suffering,” said Canon White.