REV Ade Omooba, above, co-founder of Christian Concern – a UK-based collection of right-wing Christian fanatics including the deranged Andrea Minichiello Williams, inset – is heading a clot of church leaders who are suing the government for allegedly violating the rights of churchgoers during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Government decided unilaterally to treat Churches as non-essential despite the clear importance of gathered worship to Christians. Blanket bans were imposed on churches while businesses were trusted to make their own decisions. Even in the relaxation of measures announced this week, pub and restaurant owners seem to be more trusted than church leaders. This cannot be right and leaves us with no choice but to take legal action.
The government should allow churches to make their own decisions about what kind of ministry to host in their buildings, rather than continuing to impose highly restrictive constraints.
We call on the government to recognise the vital importance of church ministry and the principle of church autonomy from the state. The government should urgently rescind its restrictions on church ministry.
While the group welcomes the government’s latest announcement that churches will be allowed to reopen from tomorrow, July 4, they are insistent that the government needs to be brought to account over the lengthy closure.
One of the group, pastor John Quintanilla of Hebron Christian Faith Church said:
For the first time in centuries, the government made it a criminal offence to go to church on a Sunday. We cannot let this go unchallenged. We need assurances this will not happen again.
The group initially threatened legal action at the end of May, providing the government with a report from environmental microbiologist Dr Ian Blenkharn, who described the government’s ban on church services as “bizarre”, “contradictory”, “perverse” and “unreasonable”.
The group now argues that the government should have issued “advice” to churches on infection control and refrained from a direct order to close “backed by a threat of a criminal sanction”.
They will further argue that the compulsory lockdown of all churches violated the first clause of Magna Carta, where King John:
Granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable.
They also claim that the measures breached article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights which protects freedom of religion.
The group also wants to seek assurances from the government that no fines or penalties will be issued against church ministers who disobeyed the lockdown.
Mr Justice Swift, a high court judge, has ordered government lawyers to file a response by 15 July, noting that the case:
Raises significant matters.
Rev Melvin Tinker, Vicar of St John Newland, Hull, added:
The church by definition is a ‘gathering’ thus if such gatherings are not allowed it follows churches are ceasing to exist. For Christians, ‘religion’ is not a private affair, it has a social dimension which is basic.
To take this away by legislation is to effectively dismantle the exercising of the Christian religion. Given the unquestionable Christian basis for many of the liberties we enjoy in the West – including democracy itself – the prohibition of churches signifies a massive departure from our heritage and promotes the secularisation process which marginalises the religion aspect of society.
Matthew Ashimolowo, the Senior Pastor of Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) – an Independent Charismatic Pentecostal Church with over 25 branches in the United Kingdom representing more than 6,000 people – added:
There is a total lack of understanding on the part of the government with regards to how our churches function. The ongoing approach to the church is not helping our communities who see the church not just as a place to go for personal prayers, but where their whole life revolves around.
The church is led by responsible people who are well able to put all the necessary preventive measures in place to avoid the spread of the virus like all other organisations. We have already invested a lot in fogging machines, sanitisation tunnels and temperature detectors.
We should not have been relegated to the back of the queue for reopening.
‘Pints over prayers’
Meanwhile, the Christian Institute reports that Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, above, is bemoaning the Scottish Government’s decision to reopen pubs ahead of places of worship.
Fraser called it “extraordinary” that bars and restaurants will be allowed to open their doors from 15 July but churches must wait to hold communal services until at least 23 July. Some “non-essential” shops have already reopened.
This seems a very strange set of priorities by the Scottish Government and gives the impression they are prioritising pints over prayers.
Churches in Scotland are currently permitted to open for limited circumstances, including funerals and private prayer with social distancing measures in place.
But Fraser called on the Scottish Government to:
Explain why people will be able to gather in pubs but not in places of worship.
He said that he agreed with the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland that the delay in fully reopening places of worship has been “disappointing” and “perplexing”.
The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland recently released a statement saying that:
Further delays to communal worship appear unjustified.
CI Director Colin Hart, above, said:
It is simply wrong for the Scottish Government to block communal worship until at least 23 July when pubs, restaurants and cinemas are reopening on 15 July. Do our political leaders think that Christians cannot be trusted to meet together?
To our knowledge, all churches in Scotland have fully complied with all government requests from the very beginning of lockdown. Christians are instructed to submit to rulers and authorities. In the midst of a clear public health crisis, they would want to do nothing to harm their neighbours.
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