A judge's ruling in favour of worship gatherings as an essential service is being called a historic win against COVID regulations in the UK.
According to a press release by Christian Concern, on March 24, 2021, a judge has ruled that the Scottish Ministers' decision to ban and criminalize gathered church worship during the current lockdown was unconstitutional and a disproportionate interference of Article 9 ECHR rights.
The judge Lord Braid also ruled that online worship is not real Christian worship, stating that it is not for the Scottish Ministers to, "dictate to the petitioners or to the additional party, that, henceforth, or even for the duration of the pandemic, worship is to be conducted on-line. That might be an alternative to worship but it is not worship. At very best for the respondents, in modern parlance, it is worship-lite."
It was 27 Scottish church leaders that responded to the restrictions outlined by First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Friday 8 January 2021. The restrictions made holding in-person church services and doing baptisms a criminal offence.
"We are very pleased that Lord Braid has recognized how essential gathered church worship is to our communities and to Scotland as a whole," says Rev. Dr William Philip, Senior Minister at the Tron Church in Glasgow.
"From the outset, we have recognized the serious decisions the Scottish Ministers had to take in response to the pandemic. However, its approach to banning and criminalizing gathered church worship was clearly an over-reach and disproportionate and if this had gone unchallenged it would have set a very dangerous precedent."
Rev. Philip, along with many other ministers and pastors from multiple denominations agree that church is more than just a gathering of people.
"There is an urgent need for a message beyond that of just health and safety: a message of hope and salvation, and Jesus Christ is the only hope that dispels all fear, death included. Now is the time as we begin to exit the current lockdown for the church in Scotland, and across the UK, to provide the spiritual leadership that is so desperately needed."
During the judicial review on March 11 and 12, Janys Scott QC, representing the 27 Scottish church leaders, argued that the pandemic had highlighted an 'irreconcilable conflict' for church leaders between obeying the state and God.
"To be absolutely clear this is not about buildings — it’s about the assembly of congregations; the sacraments of communion and baptism and the ministry between members of a church are integral aspects of expression on what it is to be a Christian and to belong to a Christian church," says Scott during the trail.
"The petitioners would say that faith is a matter of hope in life and in death and it’s more than mere obedience and that it is essential particularly at a time of national crisis."
Scott told the court that because of past legal rulings and the nature of the constitution, the state couldn't interfere with church.
"The Deputy First Minister does not understand," Scott made mention in court. "The primary purpose for worship is not for social or mental well-being. Public worship is a robust central aspect of the practice of the Christian both individually and as a church."
"It is important because that it is no exaggeration to say that over the centuries Christians have died in the defence of the public worship in the church and Christians continue to die in the defence of the public worship in church."
Scott ended the time in court stating that this was higher than the state trying to deal with churches in Scotland.
"I’m saying this from the perspective of a group of ministers and church elders who want to defend their right to worship, but it is there as an underlying point which is protected for good reason by the European Convention on Human Rights."