Glasgow priest launches legal action over Covid church closures

Canon Tom

A Glasgow priest has launched legal action over church closures related to Covid-19.

Canon Tom White whose St Alphonsus parish is in the heart of the city’s famous Barras has issued a pre-action letter to the Scottish government demanding it ends the blanket ban on places of worship. 

A response must be made before Tuesday February 23.

Under the present ban, Scottish worshippers currently face criminal penalties for going to church while their English neighbours who can attend with safety measures in place.

Canon Tom said: “As a priest, I have witnessed first-hand the grief and suffering that Covid-19 has caused for my parish members.

“Therefore I know, as a priest, that we need to open my church to be able to support them best in their hour of need.”

The case is being supported by ADF International, a legal advocacy organisation which takes action to support religious freedom around the world.

Canon Tom said: “I am most encouraged by the support of ADF International in my pursuit of lifting the ban on public worship - an issue which is weighing heavily on the heart of my community at this difficult time.

“I speak for many in the church when I say that it’s very important to keep people safe and well during this pandemic. But, this can and should be done while also allowing people to fulfil their need to draw close to God and worship in community at the church.

“With appropriate safety measures, we can accommodate both of these outcomes, as is shown in England, Northern Ireland and Wales,” he continued.”

Ryan Christopher, director of ADF International in the UK, said: “Freedom of religion is a foundational human right. We support Canon Tom’s efforts because domestic and international law require the government to protect freedom of worship, including  in public or in private, individually or in community with others.

“This right  should be  limited  only  to the extent that is  necessary and proportionate. The Scottish government’s medical advisors have conceded there is no robust medical evidence for the closure of churches, which remain open in most European countries. We must find solutions which protect both the vulnerable and those who understand their communal worship to be as essential as food and water.”

Should Canon Tom’s legal challenge be successful, it would add to a number of similar bans being overturned across Europe. In the  Canton of Geneva,  France, and  Germany,  courts have ruled that the complete suspension of corporate worship is not proportionate.

Lois McLatchie, from Helensburgh, a communications officer for ADF International said: “Why should Scots be denied the freedom afforded to our English neighbours? Authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and indeed, most of the rest of the world – have found a way to protect the public while also respecting the rights of religious communities.

“It is unclear why the Scottish government cannot do the same. Churches have much to offer during this difficult time. The government should not disadvantage the people of Scotland by failing to account for the moral and legal case for public worship.”