Isle of Lewis compared to Saudi Arabia by Sunday campaigners

A Scottish island has been compared to Saudi Arabia by campaigners fighting to use a sports centre on Sundays.

The Isle of Lewis campaigners said they were being vilified by a minority among the Free Church, the Western Isles Council and the community for challenging a long-standing refusal to open the Lewis Sports Centre in Stornoway due to a tradition of recognising the Sabbath as a day of rest.

Religious leaders hit back, branding campaigners “satanic” for trying to change the culture of keeping most public services and private businesses shut on Sundays.

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Pauline Matterson, 41, a Canadian writer who moved to Lewis in 2015 with her doctor husband and their son, now aged six, said: “Ironically, we were choosing between moving to Saudi Arabia, where my husband also had a chance of work, and here, and I thought the Hebrides would be a bit more tolerant.

Stornoway, Isle of Lewis
Stornoway, Isle of Lewis

“When I first heard that the reason the sports centre was shut on Sundays was due to religious differences on the islands, I was shocked. I thought, ‘Surely this isn’t legal’. There is nowhere indoors to take children on Sundays.

“I fully respect the views of some people with strong religious beliefs who believe it is not moral to do these things on Sundays...but I really don’t feel that my son swimming on a Sunday will hurt these people’s lives.”

The Rev David Fraser, a retired Free Church minister and former Moderator of its General Assembly, said campaigners were a “tiny group obsessed with tearing up the Christian values of our island”.

He said: “It’s satanic because it’s just so destructive. If I saw someone throwing acid at my wife’s face I’d be absolutely livid. It’s like that if we see people doing things which are injurious to Jesus. They hate Sunday and Jesus. If they did not, why would they be insisting on this?

Stornoway, Isle of Lewis

“The Sabbath is a thing to experience here. There’s a wonderful stillness; it’s therapeutic. If you have all these activities – cars, buses, people moving around – it’s disturbing. I think we know very clearly where we stand. They’re not going to budge and we’re not going to budge.”

Mr Fraser was one of two protesters outside the ongoing trial of Sunday cinema openings that began last month, urging a crowd of almost 200 at the sell-out first screening at Stornoway’s An Lanntair arts centre to “repent their sins”.

The Western Isles Council said it did “not oblige” staff on Lewis to work on Sundays in reflection of the island’s tradition.