Sunday trading liberalised while churches remain restricted

9 June 2020

The government is reportedly planning to suspend Sunday trading laws to boost the economy, however churches will only be allowed to open up for private prayer.

The government is reported to be planning to suspend Sunday trading laws for a year in an attempt to stimulate the economy. Since 1994, only smaller shops are allowed to open all day on Sundays. Larger stores are restricted to opening between 10:00 and 18:00.

Meanwhile, the government has announced that places of worship will be allowed to open for individual private prayer only from Monday 15 June. Communally led prayer, worship of informal prayer meetings will remain prohibited.

Churches not trusted

This means that large businesses are trusted to open up for long hours on Sundays, while churches remain highly restricted in what they are allowed to do. The government therefore trusts large businesses, but does not trust churches to minimise the risks of infection.

Churches are also not permitted to host informal prayer meetings for those who may wish to attend with appropriate social distancing and cleansing. However, hundreds of people will be allowed to visit supermarkets where they will open fridge doors and handle goods which others may have handled very shortly before.

Churches can easily be made safer than supermarkets, but the government appears not to trust churches enough to even allow small-scale informal prayer meetings with appropriate precautions.

Restrictions on church ministry unprecedented

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern commented: “This restriction on church ministry is unprecedented. The government should not be criminalising prayer meetings, church services or sacraments.

“The principle of church autonomy is a vital constitutional freedom which strikes at the heart of the important principle of the independence of church and state. The state should not dictate to churches in such a draconian manner as to even restrict informal church prayer meetings.”

In France, the Supreme Court recently ruled that a blanket ban on meetings at places of worship was “manifestly illegal.” In Florida, church services were ruled to be an “essential activity” as far back as 7 April.

A letter sent to the government at the end of last month on behalf of 25 church leaders argued that blanket restrictions on church ministry here in the UK is unprecedented and disproportionate. The letter requested urgent dialogue with the government on the issue and threatened a judicial review against the lockdown restrictions on churches if no response was forthcoming.

Government worshipping at the altar of mammon

Christian Concern chief executive Andrea Williams said:

“I find it distressing that the government is considering allowing more trading on Sundays while church ministry will remain restricted.

“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 government should not be dictating to churches in this way. Church ministry is independent of the government and blanket restrictions are unprecedented and completely disproportionate.

“The latest news reveals that the government is prepared to relax rules for the benefit of the economy whilst maintaining strict rules that hinder church ministry. The government therefore appears to be worshipping at the ‘altar of mammon’, while disrespecting the importance of Christian ministry both for individuals and society as a whole.

“Churches can easily be made as safe as supermarkets. Churches should be allowed to do so if they so wish.

“We call on the government to recognise the vital importance of church ministry and the principle of church autonomy from the state. The government should urgently rescind its restrictions on church ministry.

“Since the letter to the government was sent seeking an urgent review of the lockdown restrictions on church ministry, several other church leaders have come forward in support of our action. We hope the government takes this seriously. Private prayer only, while supermarkets are in full flow is not enough.”

Find out more about Church lockdown
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