Three-quarters of Scots oppose churches lockdown exemption

More than three-quarters of Scots oppose the prospect of churches being exempt from Covid-19 lockdown measures, new polling finds.

Religious figures are now being urged to "think again" over a court challenge to the current restrictions. Churches cannot currently open for worship, but can hold small weddings and funerals.

But supporters of a judicial review at the Court of Session next month, into the restriction on worship in churches, say the law is "not decided by opinion polls”.

A Survation poll commissioned by the Humanist Society Scotland finds only 17 per cent of Scots say places of worship should be exempt from the latest restrictions. The survey shows 76 per cent do not think churches should be exempt.

The Judicial review is expected to call in the Court of Session

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Fraser Sutherland, chief executive of the Humanist Society Scotland, said: "These findings show that the public overwhelmingly believe that religious groups should face the same restrictions as everyone else.

"Despite this, a number of churches are taking the government to court in an attempt to overturn the lockdown restrictions so they can open for communal prayer.

"Such actions would not only put their own congregations at risk, but also risk further community spread.”

He added: "We are calling on church leaders taking the court action to think again – listen to reason and the scientific evidence."

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The poll of 1,012 Scots between January 29 and February 2 suggests an age divide, with older Scots more likely to oppose any exemption for churches compared with younger people. It shows that 68 per cent of 16-24-year-olds would not back an exemption, but this gradually rises through the age groups, reaching 86 per cent opposition among over those over 65.

Some individual members from the Free Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), as well as a number of pastors from smaller Scots independent churches like the Edinburgh North Church, have backed the legal fight. It is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC).

Among the backers are Rev. Dr William Philip of The Tron church in Glasgow. He said: “Thankfully the law is not decided by opinion polls. Even if a poll were to support the permanent closure of places of worship, that would not make it unlawful to exercise the freedom of religion protected by the European Declaration of Human rights.

"Courts in other countries have determined that the criminalisation of gathered Christian worship is unlawful and a breach of human rights and the Scottish Court will make its decision on the basis of law, not a Humanist Society sponsored poll."

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Another supporter, John-William Noble, Pastor at Grace Baptist Church Aberdeen, said: “We wonder what a similar poll would have said about the importance of allowing off-licenses to remain open during the lockdown, whilst places of worship are required to close, especially given there is no evidence at all of transmission at places of worship which have complied with the various precautions, but plenty of evidence of increased alcohol-related harms during lockdown."

He added: "What people need more than ever during this crisis is the consolation – and health – that Christian worship and ministry can bring."

But the move does not have the backing of the Church of Scotland or the Scottish Episcopal Church.

"We do not think taking legal action is the right course to take when the country is under threat from Covid-19,” a Church of Scotland spokesman said.

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