'Government should never have criminalised Christian worship,' says Christian leader

(Photo: Unsplash/Annie Spratt)

Christian leaders are still considering whether to pursue legal action against the Government for imposing blanket bans on churches during lockdown which carried the threat of criminal sanctions. 

Pastor and Christian Concern co-founder Ade Omooba said the Government should not have introduced such sweeping measures to stop churches from gathering for worship or ministry as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

He is one of 25 church leaders who wrote to the Government in May threatening legal action on the grounds that the blanket closure of churches was "disproportionate" and contravened the liberties of the Church as guaranteed by Magna Carta. 

"Our clients do not for a moment suggest that churches should be allowed to operate as before notwithstanding the Coronavirus epidemic," the letter read.

"Rather, our clients' concern is that, as a matter of principle, the imposition of appropriate anti-epidemic measures in the Church is ultimately a matter for Church authorities rather than secular state authorities." 

Churches have been allowed to re-open for worship since 4 July, with government guidance released a few days before this outlining advice rather than legally enforceable regulations. 

However, the church leaders are still considering whether to pursue legal action in order to defend the principle that the Church should be free from disproportionate state interference.

Pastor Omooba said: "The Government should never have criminalised Christian worship and ministry.

"Churches were put in the extraordinary position of being allowed to run food banks whilst facing the risk of criminal sanctions for offering in-person prayer ministry.

"We are pleased that as a result of our discussions and legal action the government has backed down, issuing advice to churches rather than legally enforceable regulations." 

He continued: "Blanket bans with the threat of criminal sanction should never have been placed on churches in such a unilateral manner. Church is vital for society and should never have been regarded as less 'essential' than DIY stores or other businesses.

"The Government's new regulations and guidance shows the significance of the legal action that we took. We continue to stand by this point in law that the government should not interfere with church regulation in such a draconian manner."