Worshippers have returned to churches in Scotland after a judge ruled coronavirus regulations that forced their closure were unlawful.
Churches were closed for lockdown and only permitted to conduct weddings or funerals – with the number of attendees strictly limited – and broadcast services online.
But a group of 27 church leaders launched a judicial review at the Court of Session arguing Scottish Government ministers acted out-with their powers when ordering the closure of places of worship under emergency legislation.
Judge Lord Braid issued his judgment on Wednesday, finding the Government regulations were unlawful as they disproportionately interfered with the freedom of religion secured in the European Convention on Human Rights.
St Mary’s Catholic Church in the Calton area of Glasgow was among the churches to reopen on Thursday, welcoming worshippers for midday mass.
Canon Tom White was involved in the legal action and he said he was “delighted” at the outcome.
He told the PA news agency: “I think it’s an important victory not so much dependent on your disposition towards how we keep each other safe in this time of pandemic, but it’s how we make sure that how we act as a liberal democracy is proportionate and that we don’t at all costs trample on the rights of others.
“Authentic worship is about gathering together as a community, authentic worship for us in the Catholic tradition is about coming together in a building which is sacred and participating in a sacred space at a sacred time and the sacraments necessarily are tangible, they’re not virtual.
“Faith is real, it’s tangible and people in this time of pandemic need to embrace the sacred.”
He said his parishioners are “delighted” and “over the moon” at being able to take part in communal worship again.
As part of the easing of lockdown in Scotland, communal worship in a place of worship is permitted from Friday, with a maximum congregation of 50 people.
Mr White said while churches have only reopened a day early, the judicial review has set an important precedent for the future.
He said: “Some people think it’s an academic decision because the churches were opening anyway, but the reality is that the right has been established, that moving forward the Government has to take due precautions and due considerations for people’s fundamental rights.”
The court action was supported by the Christian Legal Centre.
Its chief executive Andrea Williams said: “Over centuries, Christian worship has been regarded as a fundamental freedom in Scotland. During this pandemic, for the first time in history, the Scottish Government chose to criminalise gathered church worship.
“This must never happen again. We are delighted today that Scottish church leaders, who consider opening their churches for gathered worship and serving their communities as integral to their lives in ministry, will be able to do so without fear.”