Sunday, March 28, 2021

Scottish church ban unconstitutional, judge rules

Victory for Scottish church leaders as judge rules government acted unconstitutionally when criminalising gathered worship |Christian Concern (press release):

March 24, 2021 - "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 [European Convention on Human 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 on-line. 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.'

"Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, 27 Scottish church leaders, from a range of Christian denominations, had brought the legal action stating that the unprecedented closures were unlawful and breached Human Rights law and the Scottish constitution.... Their claim came in response to the restrictions outlined by First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Friday 8 January 2021, which made it a criminal offence for churches in the highest tiers, to hold in person services and, for example, to conduct baptisms.

"At a full judicial review hearing at the Court of Session in Edinburgh earlier in March, the leaders had sought a declarator (a declaration order) that the restrictions on churches were unlawful and a declarator which would allow people to attend church, should the tier system be reintroduced.

"There has been no attempt to close churches in Scotland since the persecution of the Presbyterian church, instituted by the Stuart kings, in the 17th century....

"During the judicial review on the 11 and 12 March, Janys Scott QC, representing the 27 Scottish church leaders, argued that the pandemic had highlighted an 'irreconcilable conflict' for church leaders between obeying the state and God.... 'The Scottish ministers have presented these 27 church leaders and very many more ministers, church elders and ordinary members of congregation with a deep crisis. As Christians their primary obedience is to God and not to the state and there is a fundamental obedience in regular communal public worship.... And to be absolutely clear this is not about buildings — it’s about assembly of congregations; the sacraments of communion and baptism and the ministry between members of a church are integral aspects of expression on what it is to be a Christian and to belong to a Christian church'....

"Scott argued that the closure of churches is unlawful, criminalises public worship and goes against centuries old practice that churches in Scotland have authority over their own affairs free from state interference. She accused John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister of holding a 'condescending and inaccurate' attitude towards public worship, by treating churches as if they are a 'matter of personal welfare or comfort'.... She also said the European Convention on Human Rights did not allow the Scottish Ministers to take the action of stopping public worship.

"'It’s not for the government to question the legitimacy of beliefs or the manner in which they are expressed,' she said. 'The petitioners say that public corporate worship is essential to the church — it is of the essence, of the being of the church and that is a matter for them.'"

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