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Church leaders threaten legal action over closure


A GROUP of 25 Christian leaders have written to the government asking for an urgent review of the lockdown measures that ban churches from opening. They warn that this ban is unlawful and threaten to seek a judicial review into the decision to keep doors locked. A report in Friday’s Telegraph points out that France’s Supreme Court has ruled that the French government’s absolute ban on religious gatherings in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus was unlawful, and has ordered the government there to relax restrictions on religious worship. This challenge is supported by Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre. Their full news release follows:

Church leaders urge government to reopen churches

High profile church leaders from some of the largest, fastest growing, and most diverse churches in the UK have written to the governmentseeking urgent review of lockdown measures that uniformly ban churches from opening.

The pre-action letter argues that blanket ‘lockdown’ restrictions imposed on all churches are both unlawful and unnecessary, asking the government to prioritise re-opening churches as part of the government’s ‘exit-strategy’.

The church leaders state that they are genuinely open to a constructive dialogue with the government. The letter warns that if the government fails to address the matters, the group will seek a judicial review of the ban.

Diverse and fastest growing churches

The signatories, many of whom lead churches in some of the most deprived communities in the UK, include:

Rev Ade Omooba MBE and Dr David Muir, Co-Chairs of the National Church Leaders Forum, A Black Christian Voice

Rev David Hathaway, President, Eurovision Mission to Europe 

Rev Dr Brad Norman, Salvation For The Nations Intl Churches

Chris Demetriou, Senior Pastor, Cornerstone

Bishop Lovel Bent, Presiding Bishop, Connections Trust

Pastor Sunday Okenwa, Regional Overseer, Deeper Christian Life Ministry

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, President, Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue

Canon Yaqub Masih MBE, Secretary General, UK Asian Christians; Secretary General & Founder, New Horizons

Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Senior Pastor, Kingsway International Christian Centre

Bishop Alfred Williams, Presiding Bishop, Christ Faith Tabernacle International Churches

Rev David Hathaway, President, Eurovision Mission to Europe 

Dennis Greenidge, Senior Pastor, Worldwide Mission Fellowship.

The letter argues that the government’s forced closure of all churches is disproportionate, interfering with Article 9 of the European Declaration of Human Rights (freedom of belief and religion). It argues that imposition of appropriate anti-epidemic measures should be a matter for church authorities rather than secular authorities.

Church autonomy goes back to Magna Carta

Church autonomy is well established in law, going all the way back to Magna Carta. The letter states:

‘There is no precedent for state legislation which in any manner limits and/or criminalises church services or sacraments.’

Prior to the lockdown, nearly all churches had already put measures into place, suspending services and small groups. Whilst recognising the urgency with which the government acted in March, the letter says that blanket impositions on churches are unnecessary and stopping church leaders from putting responsible measures in place to restore worship.

Rev David Hathaway said: ‘The government has failed to recognise the centrality of faith to a Christian’s life. Sunday worship and access to church buildings has been treated like a mere hobby or pastime rather than foundational to national and Christian life.’

Lawful to go to B&Q but not church 

In the government’s proposed strategy to exit the lockdown, churches have been placed in the bottom category, suggesting that they are amongst the most dangerous and least important services to the community, subject to the severest restrictions for the longest period of time. The letter argues that the government should recognise the importance of churches and church ministries to society and allow churches to open up earlier than at the very last stage of the easing of restrictions.

Pastor Ade Omooba MBE, one of the claimants in the letter, said: ‘It cannot be right that at present it is lawful to go to a bike shop, B&Q, visit a chiropractor or dry cleaner, and not be allowed to receive Holy Communion or engage in silent prayer in a church. Churches have traditionally been at the centre of the communities, able to offer counsel, prayer and comfort at times of national crisis. They are at the heart of our communities, helping to combat mental health problems, addictions, risk of suicide, domestic violence, poverty and risk.‘Churches deliver an essential service to the community. The government should not be putting churches as the lowest priority services for re-opening from the lockdown. We look forward to the response from the government to this letter and hope that we can engage with the government to see church ministry prioritised as we start to exit the lockdown.’

The full letter can be seen here. 

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Edited by Kathy Gyngell

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