Politics

Nicola Sturgeon’s strict ban accused of ‘breaching human rights’ – ‘Arbitrary and unfair’

Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland ‘must work from home as much as possible’

Places of worship were forced to close yesterday except for weddings with up to five guests, funerals with up to 20 mourners and online broadcasts. This made Scotland the only part of the UK to introduce a ban on public worship with Catholic leaders calling the decision “arbitrary and unfair”.

 

In England and Wales, communal worship and funerals can continue, subject to limits on attendance.

Weddings are allowed in “exceptional circumstances” with up to six people.

Churches in Northern Ireland also remain open for services, subject to a limit on numbers dependent on individual risk assessments.

Glasgow Shettleston MSP John Mason raised concerns at Holyrood’s COVID-19 committee over “the separation between the church and the state”.

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The SNP politician questioned Deputy First Minister John Swinney, saying: “Some of the churches at least are arguing that the state should not be intervening and telling them not to have services.”

Lothian MSP Gordon Lindhurst said he was contacted by “upset” and “very concerned” constituents.

Mr Lindhurst argued the restrictions on public worship were at odds with Article 9 of the Human Rights Act on freedom to express religious beliefs.

The Scottish Tory MSP said: “That continues to be respected by governments in other nations in Europe, North America, and indeed here in the British Isles on the basis of adherence to social distancing, and other evidential and scientifically based requirements.

“Yet here in Scotland, the First Minister and your government have set out regulations which entirely curtail that fundamental right.”

Mr Lindhurst said: “The question is not that the government is stopping human interaction, the government is choosing what human interaction is allowed to take place.

“We’re almost a year into this pandemic. It is perfectly understandable closing places of worship, perhaps the first four or five weeks. But we’re well beyond that.”

However, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said places of worship had been included in the latest lockdown – which was brought in to try to curb the new, faster spreading strain of COVID-19 – because of the “potential for the virus to spread” at services.

He told the committee: “Sadly and regrettably, and very much to my personal regret, that cannot exclude places of worship, because we have to acknowledge places of worship are places where people come together, there is the potential for the virus to spread.

“This is about protecting the public from a very serious virus and making sure that places of worship are able to play their part in that effort.”

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Highlighting how he and his family take part in an online Mass every Sunday, Mr Swinney added: “We do that within our own home, safely, able to participate in religious worship.

“Rights are in no way constrained by the restrictions but we are able to play our part in ensuring we don’t contribute to the circulation of the virus.”

Responding to the human rights allegations, Mr Swinney said: “Nobody in the Government wants to restrict anybody’s ability to take part in communal religious worship, it is the last thing on earth I want to do.

“But we have to acknowledge … where there is human interaction in whatever context, whether it is an early learning centre, a school, a factory, a shop, a bank, a hospital, a church, a place of worship, there is the opportunity for the virus to spread. 

“Therefore, if we are getting to a point where as a society we cannot confidently assume that our National Health Service is going to be able to withstand the growth infection because of the level of human interaction in our society, we have got to take action to minimise that level of human interaction, and that is crucial in arresting the levels of the virus within our society.

“I would not accept a fundamental right is being curtailed here.”

Scottish Government’s national clinical director Jason Leitch also insisted the curbs were the “right thing to do”.

Professor Leitch cited weekly Test and Protect data showing 120 Scots attended church or other places of worship while infectious.

He told MSPs: “That creates a risk I am unwilling to take in the advice I give to the decision-makers.

“Every country in the UK has made this decision at some point during the pandemic.”

Additional Reporting by Tom Martin, Scottish Express Political Editor 

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