Tomorrow Scotland’s top civil court will hear the case of a Glasgow priest who is challenging the Scottish government’s worship ban.
Canon Thomas White has brought together a formidable legal team to challenge the government about the evidence it used to justify its ban on public worship.
The priest of St Alphonsus Church in Barras, Glasgow, described Scottish Government’s worship ban as a disproportionate which damages the disadvantaged community he serves.
Through his challenge, he seeks to “restore the access of everyone to the essential comfort and hope that Christ offers through the open door of the Church.”
“[While] bicycle shops and dry-cleaners open throughout the current lockdown, my grieving community has had no access to their church or the sacraments,” he said.
“Freedom of worship is a human right, and receiving the sacraments is as vital to me and my parishioners as receiving food and water,” he concluded.
In January, White said that “”without any evidence or indeed any justification or explanation, the Scottish Government has impinged our human rights” – the right of freedom of assembly and religions as put forward in the European Convention of Human Rights (EHRC).
Supported by ADF international, a faith-based advocacy group, White’s case will be presented by human rights expert Aidan O’Neill QC.
O’Neill will challenge the government on the grounds that the ban was in contravention of the EHRC which enshrines the freedom of public worship in law. The Westminster government and many countries across Europe have permitted socially-distanced worship in 2021.
O’Neill is expected to challenge the evidence given at a Covid-19 Committee meeting in January by Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s National Clinical Director.
Leitch had testified to the committee that contact-tracing data showed 120 Scots to have attended religious services while infectious with the coronavirus over a 7-day period.
Asked for evidence that the virus had been spread by those attending by Conservative MSP Gordon Lindhurst, he noted “that data was unavailable”.
Amid the ongoing pressure from religious leaders and the public, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a series of concessions yesterday that could see believers return to places of worship as early as 26th March.
While the decision was praised by clergy and public alike, the government’s failure to provide for worshippers is still a sore point. Though the decision was a “step in the right direction”, said Ryan Christopher, Director of ADF UK, “t is important for the Court to decide whether this ban was truly justified.”
The government’s medical advisors had conceded in November that there was limited evidence for the closure of churches, but pursued the policy, as other Eurpoean countries allowed them to remain open.
Other church leaders from multiple denominations are also preparing legal challenges against the government.