The closure of churches under Scottish Government coronavirus measures has presented Christians with an “irreconcilable conflict” between loyalty to God and obedience to the state, a judge has been told.
Over a two day hearing last week, Court of Session Judge Lord Braid heard arguments presented on behalf of church leaders challenging the criminalising of public worship.
Lord Braid is expected to give a written judgment by 26 March, the date First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she will allow places of worship to reopen with a maximum 50 congregants, regardless of capacity.
‘Jesus is Lord’
Janys Scott QC, representing a group of 27 church ministers , told Lord Braid: “My note of argument makes no apology for starting with a statement – and that is Jesus is Lord because that encapsulates the issue as far as the petitioners are concerned.”
Mrs Scott continued: “The Scottish Ministers have presented these 27 church leaders and very many more ministers, church elders and ordinary members of congregation with a deep crisis.”
My note of argument makes no apology for starting with a statement – and that is Jesus is Lord
She said that there was an “irreconcilable conflict between the obedience of the Christian church to their God” and “obedience to the state”.
The QC also said: “The primary purpose for worship is not for social or mental wellbeing. Public worship is a robust central aspect of the practice of the Christian, both individually and as a church.”
On behalf of the Roman Catholic priest Canon Tom White, Aidan O’Neill QC said: “When we look at it from a religious perspective it’s a state who prefers mammon to God – the banks will stay open; the economy needs to keep running, you still need to go to work but you can’t go to church because those are the essential things and church isn’t essential.
They have chosen to criminalise worship
“A democratic state is one that has got to have space for allowing the churches to say ‘we actually prefer God over mammon; we prefer that space – that the salvation of souls is as important as the people in charge’.
“What this is about is reminding the government that it does not have absolute power. They have chosen to criminalise worship”.
The 27 church ministers are backed by The Christian Legal Centre. Canon Tom White is backed by Alliance Defending Freedom.
Speaking before the hearing, the spokesman for the Scottish pastors, Trustee of The Christian Institute Revd. Dr William Philip, said: “This is a crucial moment for the freedom of the church in Scotland.
“For public Christian worship to be prevented is deeply damaging to society in terms of the most important health of all: eternal health.
“Death is not just a risk for some in a pandemic but a certainty for all, and the Church’s calling is to teach people how to live, and how to die, through proclaiming Jesus Christ, the only hope that dispels all fear, death included.
“The justification for closure is that the state may regulate a host of civil matters that can affect places of worship. Our response is that the regulations clearly trespass from ‘civil’ to ‘spiritual’.”