IN MY last piece for The Conservative Woman I referred to Boris Johnson’s ‘neo-Cromwellian state’ in the context of his suppression of Christmas and Easter. Little did I expect that his centurions would be storming churches this Good Friday.
The 1970s Irish republican song The Men Behind The Wire may not feature on the playlists of many readers, but a verse from it has not left my mind since I heard about what happened in Christ the King Polish Roman Catholic Church in Balham, south London, on Friday evening: Round the world the truth will echo/Cromwell’s men are here again/England’s name again is sullied/In the eyes of honest men.
The facts of what happened are as simple as they are appalling. According to the church’s website (translated from Polish): ‘On Good Friday, April 2, during the Liturgy of the Lord’s passion, at the moment of the adoration of the Cross, at about 6pm, the police came to the door of our church . . . the police officers, stating that our liturgical assembly was unlawful, ordered everyone to leave our church immediately under the threat of a fine for each of the parishioners present of £200 or even arrest.’
The right to worship is inalienable. Under the old English Common Law, a criminal who took refuge in a church could not be removed by the forces of the state. This was based on the idea, as English legal historian Ben Darlow has put it, ‘that no force could be used on the consecrated and holy ground of the churches’. What a searing incongruity it is to see such hallowed traditions monstrously profaned in a Western democracy.
Aside from the eternal verities of the Natural Law, even hard-bitten secularists should surely recoil at the brazen disregard that the Wandsworth police have shown for the secular law, both common and statutory, which governs these matters. Section 36 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 makes it an offence punishable by up to two years in prison to ‘obstruct or prevent or endeavour to obstruct or prevent . . . by threats or by force . . . any clergyman . . . from celebrating divine service in any church, chapel, meeting house, or other place of divine worship’, and in the case of Cole v Police Constable 443A (1937), Lord Goddard ‘stated that it was a common law right to attend one’s own parish church’. For those who take the European Convention on Human Rights to be the written constitution of this land, there is the Scottish case from just last week where Lord Braid ruled that politicians cannot ban Christians from attending church during the pandemic, citing the fundamental right to thought, conscience and religion found in Article 9 of that convention.
Clearly, for Johnson’s paramilitaries, centuries of law based upon canon law, customary law, common law, statute law and the fundamental rights enshrined in the European Convention count for naught.
Their sole guidance appears to be what they chillingly refer to as ‘the regulations’, that seemingly endless suite of ministerial decrees issued upon the very dubious authority of the 1984 Public Health Act. Even here the police got it wrong as, in an act of remarkable disrespect, they breached the chancel or sanctuary of the church, blurting into a microphone that ‘this gathering is unfortunately unlawful under the coronovirus regulations we have currently, you are not allowed to meet inside with this many people under law’.
On the contrary, the gathering was not unlawful under the regulations because there is an express exception for ‘communal worship in a place of worship’: exception number 15 in section 4 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021.
There is no express limit placed upon numbers attending, save for the proviso that the organiser has carried out the appropriate risk assessment. The only direct reference to numbers is in the guidance where it is stated that ‘limits for communal worship should be decided on the basis of the capacity of the place of worship following an assessment of risk’. The assistant priest, Father Aleksander Dasik, has made it abundantly clear that the church followed all the statutory requirements: ‘All Government requirements were met . . . We believe that we and our faithful were treated very unfairly, even on such an important day for believers.’
We are left with the bleak truth that in Boris Johnson’s Britain, the law at any moment is merely what the police say it is. At this moment the law is that death threats against teachers carrying out their job go uninvestigated and unpunished while the human rights of one of our most loyal and hardworking communities are trampled underfoot.
God only knows what the law will be next week.