Hundreds of church leaders urge Nicola Sturgeon to lift ban on public worship

Nicola Sturgeon took the decision to ban public worship during Scotland's latest national lockdown(Photo: Sky News)

Some 500 church leaders have added their names to an open letter calling on Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to reinstate public worship. 

Scotland stands alone in the UK in criminalising church attendance under Covid-19 restrictions, a measure that the ministers said "may be unlawful". 

They speak of their "profound concern" over the closure of churches, and call for an urgent re-think and an acknowledgement of public worship's "contribution to the public good". 

Church ministers to have signed the letter include Rev Paul Rees of Charlotte Chapel, Edinburgh, and Rev Dr William Philip of the Tron Church, Glasgow.

They write that there is "no evidence of any tangible contribution to community transmission" through churches, and that they have demonstrated that public worship "can be made safe from Covid transmission". 

"We understand entirely the exceptional difficulties of leading the country at the present time, and we and our churches have prayed for wisdom and clarity for your government repeatedly," the letter reads.

"But we strongly disagree with the decision to prevent the gathering of the Church at this time, which we believe is profoundly unhelpful and may be unlawful."

They argue that because Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights prohibits governments from interfering with religious practice unless demonstrated as essential for public health, "clear scientific proof" is required to show that church services had been significant in spreading the disease.

They go on to say that they are "dismayed" by what appears to be "a failure in the Scottish Government to understand that Christian worship is an essential public service, and especially vital to our nation in a time of crisis".

Public worship, they said, is essential to social cohesion and "the mental health of our nation, which has been battered by nine months of lockdown-related stress and strain".

"Above all [it is] essential as a sign of hope in the face of despair," they said. 

They conclude by calling on the Scottish Government to follow the rest of the UK in leaving the decision to open or close with churches.

"The United Kingdom Government has rightly heeded these important and persuasive arguments, and has since, even in the face of a national lockdown, preserved this essential contribution to the wellbeing of the nation by allowing public worship to continue in England," they told Sturgeon.

"We urge you not to disadvantage the people of Scotland by failing to recognize both the moral and legal arguments for the priority of public worship, and also the weight of scientific evidence for its essential contribution to the public good." 

The letter concludes: "In national times of crisis past, governments have looked to the church and sought leadership in a call to national prayer to the Living God.

"We urge you not to be the government which denies our nation the collective prayer of the churches of our land in days when it is most greatly needed."