Scotland’s highest civil court ruled Wednesday that the Scottish government’s treatment of churches during the pandemic has been unlawful. A Catholic priest, Canon Tom White, had challenged the proportionality of the ban along with a coalition of 27 other faith leaders, in a legal action that went before the court earlier this month.
The ruling came on the heels of a major government concession allowing churches to reopen with a cap of 50 worshippers this Friday, and could keep Holyrood from attempting similar bans on public worship in the future.
Aidan O’Neill QC, who represented Canon White in the action, said, “[The blanket ban] has a fundamental chilling impact on worship and belief. It requires people in good conscience to choose between God and Caesar.” He called it “an extraordinary abuse of the state’s power,” and welcomed the judges’ decision in the matter.
“I’m overjoyed to hear that the court has understood the essential need to protect not only the physical and material health of our society,” Canon White told the Alliance Defending Freedom UK, which supported the challenge, “but also its spiritual needs and therefore overturned the disproportionate, unnecessary and unlawful blanket ban on public worship.”
ADF UK Director Ryan Christopher welcomed the decision, saying the challenge was “necessary” and lauding Scotland’s high court court for seeing what he said the government did not: that freedom of religion and belief is a human right to be afforded the highest protection. “In declaring the ban to be ‘unlawful’,” Christopher said, “the court helps ensure that people of faith will not again have their rights erased in this way.”
Noting that the judgment shows the central importance of the Church’s role in society, Canon White went on to express hope that believers will find relief and a measure of confidence “Now,” he said, “we can trust that our fragile and damaged communities will never again be left without the church as a source of hope, comfort, and vital spiritual nourishment in times of crisis.” White thanked people from across Scotland, who had offered prayers and financial support. “Thanks be to God for this wonderful news!” he said.