Judge grants judicial review into Scottish church closures during lockdown

Rev Dr William Philip, leader of The Tron Church in Glasgow (pictured), is one of 27 Christian leaders challenging church closures during lockdown in Scotland.(Photo: Facebook/The Tron Church)

Scottish ministers are to face a judicial review into why churches were forced to close their buildings during the current lockdown.

Lord Braid has granted permission for a hearing which will take place remotely on 11 and 12 March after Scottish ministers rejected the arguments of 27 Scottish church leaders in a pre-action letter.

The church leaders argue that the "disproportionate" closures are a breach of human rights law and the Scottish constitution, and are preventing them from meeting the material, emotional and spiritual needs of their congregations and communities.

In their response, Scottish ministers said the state was within its rights to "regulate the secular activities of Churches...for the purposes of protecting public health", and that churches were compelled to "comply with secular law." 

The church leaders come from a broad range of denominations, including the Free Church of Scotland, Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), Church of Scotland and a number of independent churches.

Their case is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which said, if successful, could lead to courts ordering the re-opening of churches. 

Rev Dr William Philip, leader of The Tron Church in Glasgow, said he was "pleased" the case is to be heard. 

"Criminalising corporate worship is both damaging and dangerous for Scotland," he said. 

"We must care for people as whole human beings, and Covid-19 is not the only threat to health and wellbeing.

"I have witnessed first-hand huge suffering through lockdown, not least a huge increase in loneliness, misery and untold damage to mental health.

"The worst deprivations from this ban are inflicted on the poorest, the neediest, the most vulnerable – now excluded from the comfort and encouragement in life and death only Christian worship can give.

"At a time when we have been forcefully confronted with the fragility of mortal life, we have allowed the message of the eternal to be eclipsed entirely by the earthly in the national consciousness.

"There is an urgent need for a message of hope and salvation. This is the calling of the Christian Church – especially in dark and difficult days: Jesus Christ is the only hope that dispels all fear, death included."

Rev Geoffrey de Bruin, leader at Christian Revival Church Edinburgh, said: "This is now a crucial moment for the freedom of the church in Scotland.

"The closure of churches is a breach of the historic principle of the separation of church and state which is enshrined in the Scottish constitution.

"The state may see church ministry as parallel to other public gatherings such as cinemas and restaurants, but believers see church ministry as far more important.

"For Christians, spiritual health is more important than physical health.

"Churches serve as lifelines of support to the most vulnerable during the toughest times and we pray that these important principles and beliefs will be recognised and upheld by the courts in March."