A group of church leaders has agreed to start a legal challenge of the government’s decision to close churches in the new lockdown set to begin this week in England.
71 church leaders from different streams and traditions have signed the pre-action letter asking the government not to impose a ban on worship services and saying they will pursue judicial review to overturn the ban if necessary.
The new restrictions, announced on 31 October and set to come into force from Thursday 5 November, state that “places of worship will be closed” with exceptions for funerals, broadcast acts of worship, individual prayer, essential voluntary public services, formal childcare, and some other exempted activities.
These restrictions will once again make it a criminal offence for Christians to gather for worship or prayer, or to go to church on Sunday.
The group of church leaders includes 25 leaders who initiated legal action against the government against the closure of churches in the first lockdown as reported by christianorthodox.com.
Following the application for judicial review, which received favourable comments from the High Court Judge, Mr Justice Swift, the government backed down and allowed churches to meet, providing guidance with virtually no legal restrictions.
In a separate judicial review of lockdown restrictions, the judge, Mr Justice Lewis, singled out the closure of churches as arguably unlawful and a breach of freedom of religion.
The church leaders involved in the new action, also includes Welsh leaders who have already sent a pre-action letter to the Welsh government objecting to the closure of churches over three Sundays for the Welsh ‘firebreak’ lockdown.
This comes after some 885 church leaders signed an open letter to the Prime Minister and First Ministers stating that “we must not be asked to suspend Christian worship again. For us to do so would cause serious damage to our congregations, our service of the nation, and our duty as Christian ministers.”
The government has no right to close churches
Pastor Ade Omooba MBE, who led the previous legal challenge, said, “Never in our history have our churches closed – not during wars, plagues or famines. Instead we have been places of respite and hope.
“The government seems not to understand the very important and long held constitutional position of the independence of church and civil government.
“Churches provide many essential services to their members, local communities, and the nation as a whole. But we can’t be relegated to a social service. The motivation and key to our service is our love for Jesus Christ and our care for the whole person, body, mind and soul. The very last thing that should be closed is churches, and then only with their agreement in times of dire emergency for a very short time.
“We call on the government to recognise the vital importance of church ministry and the principle of church autonomy from the state.
“Church is so much more than a place for individual prayer. It is a place for prayer ministry, sacraments, gathered worship, fellowship, and corporate prayer and intercession. The government should not be preventing these vital ministries.”
Rev. Matthew Roberts (Minister of Trinity Church, York) said: “For a nation which is trying to preserve life to ban people from worshipping, hearing from and praying to the one who gives life and restores life is folly of the highest order. It also overturns centuries of the laws, values and traditions of the whole of the UK.”
Matthew Jolley (Minister of Bury St Edmunds Presbyterian Church) said: “Man does not live by bread alone. Now more than ever Churches are needed to help care for people and their spiritual, emotional and mental needs. The country needs the hope only the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides. Our doors need to be open to welcome all people to hear the good news of Christ. The government does not have the right, either by the law of the land or before God, to close churches. This is a mistake that must be challenged.”
Chris Demetriou (Senior Pastor, Cornerstone) said: “The precious people that have made a concerted effort to attend church since restrictions were lifted in July have done so because of a genuine need to fellowship with others of like mind and heart. They are prepared to come in spite of social distancing and wearing face coverings, and a major effort is required for most. Therefore, removing this weekly necessity from their lives may have a negative impact on their overall well-being and mental health.”
Rev. Dr Peter Sanlon (Rector, Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells) said: “Governments have great responsibilities and are granted authority by God to do good and uphold justice, but the same God who grants authority to governments sets limits on their authority. A government that restricts the Church’s worship – even going so far as to ban church meetings (while permitting other kinds of entertainment, education and support), oversteps its God-ordained authority. We need our government to exercise wisdom and prudence in these difficult days – that includes respecting the freedom of churches to care for people in ways that honour God.”
Rev. Melvin Tinker (Director of Theology, Christ Church Network) said: “The flourishing of any society is dependent upon the stability of the ‘three legs’ of the societal stool, governmental, economic and religious. It is the third leg which is seriously being compromised by the decision to close places of worship.”
Oliver Allmand-Smith (Pastor, Trinity Grace Church, Ramsbottom) said: “Christians do not meet for worship for social reasons or out of personal preference, but in response to the call of God. The call to worship comes from the same God who calls so many of our members to serve in hospitals, schools and other institutions – vocations lived out of a life of worship. Don’t shut us down.”
Darrin Gilchrist, Itinerate Minister said: “Many churches stand upon ecclesiastical principles long protected by the civil government and the church will continue to exist should these principles cease to be protected. But let this be clear, the church exists to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus Christ who is our only hope in life and death. Churches have a history of welcoming anyone to challenge whether she is essential or not to society. She is still here.”
Rev. Dr Peter Naylor (Elder, Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Cardiff) said: “My father both grandfathers, and all the men of my family, gave years of their lives in two world wars to win our freedom. That freedom has now been taken away. Regulations deny the right to worship and go against the Law of God and conscience. Our police are being used to enforce this soul-destroying theft of precious liberty.”
Rev. Ian Christensen (AoG UK, Senior Minister, New Life Christian Centre International) said: “The Church is seen as a trusted and reliable source of help and support for local communities. At a time when this is most needed the Church cannot close its doors to the vulnerable; it is unlawful to do so. She is, and always will be seen as an ‘essential service’ for all.”
John and Sally Quintanilla (Pastors, Hebron Christian Faith Church) said: “When the country is being asked to undertake enormous sacrifices at a time that the UK mortality rates are average for this time of year and 2020 is on course to be the 8th worst year of death rates in the last 27 years, it is vital that the government doesn’t undermine public trust. Since when did the government mandate include authority to decree what its citizens can or can’t buy, who they can or cannot see, where they can or cannot go and when they can and cannot worship etc.”
Jon Hobbs (Minister, Grace Church, Haywards Heath) said: “Christians believe they have been called by the Lord Jesus Christ to be another emergency service – visible communities of light in times of darkness, that people can come and join with each Sunday to pray and find hope, comfort and support. We, therefore, regard a prohibition on gatherings for worship in a time of national crisis as tragic, inappropriate, and void of any real understanding of the purpose of the church itself. It’s like closing all lighthouses in the middle of a great storm.”