Allowing public worship again is a 'priority' for Scottish Government

(Photo: Scottish Parliament)

Nicola Sturgeon says that "priority" will be given to the re-opening of churches in Scotland for public worship in the forthcoming strategic framework for exiting the current lockdown.

Churches in all but a few areas of Scotland remain closed for in-person worship, unlike England where they have been allowed to stay open for services with strict hygiene and social distancing measures in place. 

The Scottish First Minister was challenged in Holyrood this week by Elaine Smith MSP, who said she had not received any reply from Sturgeon to a letter she sent in January raising concerns about the suspension of in-person worship. 

Smith said that in her letter she had "explained the importance of communal worship for spiritual, social and psychological benefits". 

In questions to the First Minister on Tuesday, she asked whether communal worship would resume in time for Easter. 

In response, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would "try to get places of worship back to normality".

"Places of worship are not closed but of course the ability to worship normally and freely is restricted and I deeply regret that, as I know everybody does," she said.

"We want to get that back to normality as quickly as possible.

"Without preempting what we set out in the strategic framework next week, I think you will see that there is a priority given to getting places of worship open again given the importance we attach to that.

"So we will continue to try to do that as quickly as possible." 

Ms Sturgeon went on to say that "difficult choices" had to be made in order to avoid another lockdown.   

"I know many people feel very strongly about this and I do understand that, but nobody in the Government - and that includes me - wants to have anywhere operating less than normally for any longer than is necessary," she said.

"Now with some settings that is easier to bear for people than others. Schools we know how difficult it is, care homes we know how difficult [it is], places of worship as well.

"So as we get the virus suppressed, as we continue to make progress with vaccination, that is what I mean when we say we're going to have to make choices about what matters most to us.

"Sometimes these will be difficult choices, but the more we can build a consensus about the things that really do matter - and I would include places of worship in that - then the more I think we can come out of this lockdown in a sensible and sustainable way and hopefully avoid the need for another one later in the year."