The Christian Institute is calling on the Government to abandon plans to force churches in England back into lockdown.
It has pointed out the “glaring inconsistencies” in the plans, which will allow universities to function normally – despite being hotspots for COVID transmission – while shutting down churches, which have successfully avoided major outbreaks.
The Institute is calling on the Government to produce evidence which justifies shutting down churches but not universities or garden centres.
Institute Director Colin Hart said: “This is not like the lockdown in March where everyone was in the same boat. There are now glaring inconsistencies in the way churches are being treated compared to other sectors of society.
“For example, universities have been linked to massive outbreaks yet they will be allowed to continue as normal. Churches have complied rigorously with COVID rules and protected their congregations, yet they are being forced to close.
“Where is the evidence to justify this restriction on the fundamental right to worship? It will do immense damage to many people’s wellbeing and to their trust in Government.
“If politicians think public worship is dispensable, who knows when they will allow churches to reopen again?”
He continued: “It is good that the Government has specified that churches can continue to open their doors for foodbanks. Physical needs should be met.
“But spiritual needs must be met too. Church attendance is a solution to isolation and fear. Right now we need more church attendance, not less.
“But the Government appears to think garden centres are more important than churches. People will be allowed to spend as long as they like browsing for potted plants and garden furniture, but they will be fined for breaking the law if they meet for an hour or so to worship God. This is just wrong.”
Mr Hart concluded: “The Government’s actions in March could be justified. This cannot. Public worship has not been suspended since before Magna Carta. Since then, through plagues and the Blitz, churches have remained resolutely open.
“We recognise the huge pressure the Government is under, but we urge Ministers to think again. They must amend the regulations to allow places of worship to meet so long as social distancing and other measures are in place.
“Jesus taught that ‘Man does not live by bread alone’ (Matthew 4:4). Churches can open as foodbanks to distribute bread but cannot open as churches to preach the word of God.
“The spiritual needs of society are being ignored. Public worship is not an optional leisure activity. It should not be treated as such.”