Scottish Government sent pre-action letter over church closures

(Photo: Unsplash/Mohammed Fahad)

Church ministers in Scotland have sent a pre-action letter to the Scottish Government threatening legal action unless it reverses its decision to close places of worship.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has imposed harsher restrictions on churches in Scotland than the rest of the UK by forcing them to close during the current lockdown. 

The pre-action letter has been signed by 30 church leaders from different denominations, including independent churches, the Free Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) and the Church of Scotland. 

The church leaders question why public transport, essential shops, professional sport and the court system are allowed to continue running, but not places of worship.

They tell the Scottish Government that they "fully understand the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic" and "appreciate that the Scottish Government is required to make difficult decisions", but call the closure of churches "arbitrary, inconsistent and disproportionate" and say it goes "too far" in the fight against Covid.

They also believe that government ministers have "failed to appreciate that the closure of places of worship is a disproportionate step, and one which has serious implications for freedom of religion". 

One of the signatories, Pastor Daniel Mihet, of Bethany Evangelical Church in Dumfries, experienced the permanent closure of churches in his native Romania when it was under communist rule.

He says he can see parallels with church closures in the UK during Covid-19. 

"This experience, to me personally, brings back memories from my living in the former Communist Bloc where churches lost their autonomy and became subject to the state," he said.

"What is now happening in each UK country I believe is beginning to resemble how churches have been treated in communist countries."

The church leaders have given the Scottish Government until 21 January to respond, and say they will have no option but to pursue a judicial review if their request is rejected. 

Rev Geoffrey de Bruin, leader at Christian Revival Church Edinburgh, said: "Since the lockdown began, the need for us to provide spiritual and mental support to the many needs in our community has been essential.

"We as a church cannot help or minister to these individuals from an online platform. We would need to have the restrictions lifted as a matter of urgency in order to provide the much-needed support our society and community needs during this lockdown."

William Macleod, minister of Knightswood Free Church (Continuing) in Glasgow, said: "The Scottish Government is asking me to break my promises to God and man by closing my church at this time.

"I believe strongly in the independence of the church from the state and that the church should be free to run its own affairs subject only to Christ and the Word of God. Our Covenanting forefathers fought for this and died as martyrs for this cause in the seventeenth century."