An Easter egg from the government won't roll away months of unfair treatment of Scottish Christians

(Photo: Unsplash/K. Mitch Hodge)

Christians in Scotland have been pleading for bread. Specifically, living bread. Amongst other voices, Canon Tom White – a parish priest from one of the most deprived communities of the UK - will be boldly challenging the Scottish government tomorrow for their decision to impose a blanket ban on all places of worship. His appeal to the public for financial support on JustGiving is ongoing.

Yesterday, the government offered spiritually-hungry Christians an olive branch.

Just days before they are set to face the priest, an offering was made from Holyrood, updating plans put in place two week ago. Priorities remain the same. Organised group sport will resume this Friday. A full fortnight later - all going well – the government intend to allow churches to resume on 26 March - just in time for Easter.

The Easter carrot had been dangled during the First Minister's speech two weeks ago, around the time that court action from the faith leaders was confirmed. Communal worship may restart a few days early with respect for religious festivals, they were told.

The outpouring of relief from the religious communities at the concession coming closer to fruition has been sizeable. The extensive petitioning efforts have yielded a promised taste of freedom.

Then again, to focus attention on the Easter question being almost resolved is to forget that the blanket ban on places of worship meeting in person that has been in place since January is a troublesome human rights issue in itself.

The blanket ban placed Scottish worshippers in a difficult situation. Many want to take all efforts to care for the vulnerable. Yet, authorities in England, Northern Ireland, Wales – in fact, across most of Europe - have all managed to find solutions which protect freedom of religion and uphold public health.

Each have found ways to make sure that churches are open and "Covid-secure" so that individuals could make the decision for themselves about whether they felt it necessary to worship collectively or at home. It's unclear why Holyrood decided otherwise.

Glasgow priest Canon Tom White is taking legal action against the Scottish government for forcing churches to suspend communal worship during lockdown.(Photo: ADF UK)

Freedom of worship in public and in community, after all, is a human right protected by international law. Perhaps more pertinently, the Church is an essential part of a community, particularly one afflicted by suffering and grief. For many Christians, the spiritual sustenance of communal worship is as vital as food and water.

Since January, they have watched off-licenses, dry cleaners and bicycle shops be given permission to open with safety measures in place to protect public health. Large, airy church buildings have remained tightly locked. The faithful have been forbidden from gathering, even at a masked distance, to worship and to receive communion.

How can Christians be more contagious than bicycle enthusiasts?

The government's progress towards restoring the right to worship is welcome. But it doesn't sweep away the extreme decision to lock all church doors for months. The case brought forward by Canon White with support from ADF UK is critical in determining whether the government made a disproportionate and unnecessary overstep. If so decided, it will prevent such oversteps from re-occuring in future.

A distanced Easter Sunday worship gathering, should it go ahead, doesn't roll away months of spiritual hunger for Scotland's Christians.

Lois McLatchie, from Scotland, writes for ADF International, a faith-based legal advocacy organization.