Churches have faced bans from many ministry activities during efforts to fight Covid-19 – while other sectors of society could continue with equally risky activities. Church leaders have challenged government bodies not to impose bans on church activities.
At the end of May 2020, a letter was sent to the government on behalf of a group of 25 church leaders, urging the government to reconsider its approach to the blanket lockdown of churches. The pre-action letter argued that lockdown restrictions imposed on churches are both unlawful and unnecessary and asked the government to prioritise the opening of churches as soon as possible.
The government then replied, rejecting the grounds that the restrictions were unlawful and instead announcing that churches would reopen for private prayer from Monday 15 June – yet at the same time, Sunday trading laws were to be eased, allowing large businesses to open all day on Sunday.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, commented: “The government should allow churches to make their own decisions about what kind of ministry to host in their buildings, rather than continuing to impose highly restrictive constraints.”
The laws governing church activities changed effective 4 July, leaving nearly all decisions in the hands of church leaders, with government advice issued as guidance rather than law, thereby recognising the independence of the Church.
In October 2020, the Welsh Assembly announced a two week ‘firebreak’ that banned church services for three Sundays and the Prime Minister announced a four-week lockdown in England. Leaders of churches in England Wales then joined together challenging the governments over the forced church closures, pursuing a judicial review. This legal challenge was withdrawn in January 2021, after churches were once more permitted to open, even in lockdown.
However, on 8 January 2021, the Scottish Government introduced new restrictions for churches in the highest tiers in Scotland, criminalising in-person gathered worship. Following this announcement, 27 Scottish church ministers sought to legally challenge this decision, seeking a judicial review. Permission for a judicial review was granted and heard at the Scottish High Court on 11 March 2021.
On 24 March 2021, judgment was handed down by Lord Braid, ruling that the Scottish Ministers’ decision to ban and criminalise gather church worship during lockdown was unconstitutional and disproportionate.
Andrea Williams commented on the outcome: “We are thankful and relieved that the High Court in Scotland has recognised this dangerous interference with our God given right to engage in worship for exactly what it is, and ruled it unconstitutional. The fundamental principle of freedom has prevailed with a strong dash of good old common sense.”
Scottish church judicial review, January to March 2021:
English and Welsh letters and joint action, November 2020:
Signatories of the initial letter, dated 28 May 2020:
- Rev. Ade Omooba MBE, Co-Chair, National Church Leaders Forum – NCLF, A Black Christian Voice
- Dr David Muir, Co-Chair, National Church Leaders Forum – NCLF, A Black Christian Voice
- Rev. Derek Andrews, Pastor, The Presence of God Ministries
- Dr Gavin Ashenden, Former Chaplain to the Queen, Former Anglican Bishop
- Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Senior Pastor, Kingsway International Christian Centre, KICC
- Bishop Lovel Bent, Presiding Bishop, Connections Trust
- Rev. Ian Christiansen, AoG UK, Senior Minister, New Life Christian Centre International
- Chris Demetriou, Senior Pastor, Cornerstone
- Professor John Durodola, National Chairman, Overseas Fellowship of Nigerian Christians (OFNC)
- Rev. Asif Gill, Senior Leader, Ecclesia International
- Dennis Greenidge, Senior Pastor, Worldwide Mission Fellowship
- Rev. Alex Gyasi MBE, Convener & Senior Pastor, Kingdom Culture Alliance & Highway of Holiness
- Rev. Dr David Hathaway D.D., President, Eurovision Mission to Europe
- Pastor Thabo Marais, Senior Pastor, Christian Revival Church London
- Canon Yaqub Masih MBE, Secretary General, UK Asian Christians; Secretary General & Founder, New Horizons
- Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, President, Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue – OXTRAD
- Rev. Dr Brad Norman, Salvation For The Nations Intl. Churches
- Pastor Sunday Okenwa, Regional Overseer, Deeper Christian Life Ministry
- Pastor John Quintanilla, Hebron Christian Faith Church, Coventry
- Pastor Sally Quintanilla, Hebron Christian Faith Church, Coventry
- Pastor Paul Song, London Shepherd Church
- Pastor Kola Taiwo, Senior Pastor, New Wine Church
- Rev. Melvin Tinker, St John Newland
- Rev. Keith Waters, New Connexions Church
- Bishop Alfred Williams BA (Hons), LLB (Hons), LLM (Inter. Business Law), MCIArb., Presiding Bishop, Christ Faith Tabernacle International Churches