ONE of the world’s largest evangelical legal organisations has backed a Glasgow priest’s bid to keep his church open during the coronavirus pandemic. 

ADF International has pledged to support Canon Tom White in his court battle with the Scottish Government, as he seeks a judicial review to overturn restrictions on services during the lockdown.

Places of worship have been closed in Scotland since January 8, only allowed to open to broadcast services. It’s not clear when they will be allowed to re-open, though earlier this week Nicola Sturgeon said it would be a priority for her government. 

In England, public worship is allowed to continue if "it is safe to do so". While technically allowed in Northern Ireland, the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland, as well as Presbyterian and Methodist leaders, have all agreed to keep doors closed until March 5 at the earliest. 

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Father White, from St Alphonsus in the Calton, said his church needed to be opened to support parishioners impacted by the pandemic. 

He said: “I speak for many in the church when I say that it’s very important to keep people safe and well during this pandemic, but this can and should be done while also allowing people to fulfil their need to draw close to God and worship in community at the church. 

"With appropriate safety measures, we can accommodate both of these outcomes, as is shown in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.”

It’s one of a number of legal battles over access to church services during the pandemic supported by the extremely well-funded US group, who, according to their last annual report, have an "advocacy" budget of just over £4m. 

Ryan Christopher, director of ADF International in the UK said they were backing the Canon’s efforts because the government had failed in its legal duty to “protect freedom of worship, including in public or in private, individually or in community with others".

He added: “This right should be limited only to the extent that is necessary and proportionate. The government’s medical advisors have conceded there is no robust medical evidence for the closure of churches, which remain open in most European countries. We must find solutions which protect both the vulnerable and those who understand their communal worship to be as essential as food and water.”

Father White has now issued a pre-action letter to the Scottish Government, they have until February 23 to answer.

A spokesperson said it would be "inappropriate to comment on ongoing litigation".

Separate to Canon White’s action, a number of other church leaders sent a pre-action letter to Scottish ministers on January 15 urging them to reopen churches. 

Earlier this week, polling commissioned by the Humanist Society revealed that more than three-quarters of Scots were opposed to the church’s calls to reopen. 

The figures from a poll by Survation, found that 17% of people in Scotland wanted places of worship to be exempt from the latest coronavirus restrictions. 

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Humanist Society Scotland chief executive Fraser Sutherland said: “These findings show that the public overwhelmingly believe that religious groups should abide by the same restrictions as everyone else.

"Despite this a number of churches are taking the government to court in an attempt to overturn the lockdown restrictions so they can open for communal prayer. Such actions would not only put their own congregations at risk but also risk further community spread.

“There is no divine intervention at the doors of a church that will stop the spread of coronavirus."

Last month the Church of Scotland moved to distance themselves from the legal action,  saying it was the wrong course to take “when the country is under threat from Covid-19".

A spokesperson for the Kirk said: “We fully accept that the latest pandemic restrictions mean that we have to close churches again for the time being.

“The vast majority of our members understand and support these temporary restrictions and anybody associated with the Church of Scotland backing this action are speaking purely for themselves."