More than 200 Scottish church leaders have called on Nicola Sturgeon to reverse the Scottish Government’s legal ban on public worship across mainland Scotland.
Almost all Christians in Scotland are currently unable to attend church in person even for private prayer after most of the country was placed in lockdown last week.
But in an open letter to the First Minister, also signed by 300 leaders from the rest of the UK, church leaders say the move to close buildings could be “unlawful”, and that the Scottish Government is failing to understand that Christian worship is an “essential public service”.
The letter stated: “We understand entirely the exceptional difficulties of leading the country at the present time, and we and our churches have prayed for wisdom and clarity for your government repeatedly. But we strongly disagree with the decision to prevent the gathering of the Church at this time, which we believe is profoundly unhelpful and may be unlawful.
“We know of no evidence of any tangible contribution to community transmission through churches in Scotland; to the contrary, since churches re-opened in July we have demonstrated that places of worship and public worship can be made safe from Covid transmission.
“It is for such reasons that legal challenges in other jurisdictions have overturned prohibitions of the freedom to gather for worship.
“However, above all we are dismayed because there seems to be a failure in the Scottish Government to understand that Christian worship is an essential public service, and especially vital to our nation in a time of crisis.”
The letter also pointed out that after much persuasion, the UK Government has accepted the essential role of public worship in society and has allowed churches to remain open in England “even in the face of a national lockdown”.
It continued: “We urge you not to disadvantage the people of Scotland by failing to recognise both the moral and legal arguments for the priority of public worship, and also the weight of scientific evidence for its essential contribution to the public good.
“For we also know that, especially in the face of the presence of disease and death, the greatest light of hope for all comes from a higher place than any earthly institution: not health services, however skilled, or Governments, however wise, but from the Divine hope that is in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“We urge you not to be the government which denies our nation the collective prayer of the churches of our land in days when it is most greatly needed.”
In a statement which has subsequently been removed from The Scotsman’s website, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We know how tough this decision will be for many people. However we must take action across society to stop the virus spreading further, so we can protect public health and save lives.
“The virus transmits when people come together and therefore we have to reduce, as far as possible, the places where they do so – this involves the decision on places of worship, just as it does schools, and workplaces so we can keep the country as safe as possible. We don’t want places of worship to be closed for a moment longer than they have to be.”