UPDATED: Scotland bans public worship for second time during COVID-19 crisis
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EDINBURGH, Scotland, January 4, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Scotland has banned public worship across the country for the second time since the coronavirus crisis started almost a year ago.
Speaking from Holyrood, Scotland’s devolved parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed “regret” for closing all places of worship to private prayers and regular services. Her justification for the ban, and other restrictions on the movements of people in Scotland, was an increase of reported COVID-19 infections.
“It is with real regret that we consider it necessary for places of worship to close during this period for all purposes except broadcasting a service, or conducting a funeral, wedding or civil partnership,” she said.
“I am well aware of how important communal worship is to people. But we believe that this restriction is necessary to reduce the risk of transmission,” the First Minister continued.
“While up to 20 people will still be able to attend funeral services, wakes will not be possible during January. And a maximum of 5 people will be able to attend wedding and civil partnership services.”
People in Scotland will be permitted to leave their homes only for reasons the government deems “essential,” like grocery shopping, paid work that cannot be done from home, and outdoor exercise. People 12 years old and above will no longer be allowed to meet outdoors in groups of 6, but only in groups of 2. Visiting other households has been forbidden across Scotland since March, with the exception of Christmas Day.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh confirmed that the ban on public worship in Scotland came as a surprise to him.
The ban begins on Friday.
Since Christmas Day, all Scotland has been plunged into “Tier 4” restrictions, which meant that churches previously permitted to host 40 worshipers per service were now allowed only 20. In response, some priests celebrated additional Masses to accommodate the faithful.
In December, the Congregation for Divine Worship granted permission to priests to say four Masses on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Epiphany. The usual limit to the number of Masses priests can say per day in times of priest shortages or other difficulties is three.
Public worship in Britain was first banned in late March 2020. The last public Catholic Masses took place in Scotland on March 19, and in England and Wales on March 20. The faithful were allowed to return to public worship in Scotland from July 15, and in England and Wales from July 4. However, public worship was again suspended in England and Wales for most of November, resuming on December 2.
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, is expected to announce tightened lockdown restrictions on residents of England and Wales tonight.
The media office of the Scottish government is closed today.
[UPDATE: January 4, 2021, 10:06 a.m.]
Sir Edward Leigh, an English Member of Parliament and the President of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, has written a letter to Scotland’s First Minister to suggest she show evidence that the heavily restricted religious services of recent months are indeed a danger to the public.
“I hope that in closing places of worship to the public, you will be presenting evidence for this decision to the Scottish Parliament in order for people to understand the public health requirement for this action,” Sir Edward wrote. “Freedom to worship in accordance with religious belief is one of the most fundamental and most precious freedoms that we enjoy. Interference or suspension with this right should not be done lightly.”
Leigh pointed out that Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights forbids governments from interfering with religious practise unless the restriction “is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
He suggested that it is not lawful for Scotland to ban public worship, therefore, without ascertaining that “churches are a significant source of spread of the virus.”