FOR generations the Western Isles have held out as one of the last outposts where observance of the Sabbath held sway and Sunday was a day given over to rest and religious observance.

But now tensions are rising in the capital of Lewis and Harris where a determined community group are chipping away at the belief that 'thou shalt not' do stuff on the Lord's Day with they campaign to have the local swimming pool opened.

Families into Sport for Health (FiSH) have been fighting their Western Isles Council, the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES), for Sunday pool access in Stornoway for a number of years.

On Friday the latest avenue of attack on the practice of closing the pool on Sunday came as the group delivered a cheque for £11,400 raised through crowdfunding to pay for Sunday staff for a year.

The group say that CnES has continually denied their request for Sunday openings, and claim that the reasons for the refusal to open on a Sunday have changed with each round of mounting pressure from the community.

Religious belief has loomed large in the dispute, with one Councillor initially saying: “It is a matter of conscience for me as I have to stand up for what I believe in and that is in God,” while another responded, “Before my election, my personal leaflet distributed to the electorate stated a commitment to uphold Christian values "if elected" and I believe the fourth commandment, "Remembering the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" is one such value.”

When FiSH submitted a follow-up request in October, councillors voted 19-9 against a year’s trial run to open the Lewis Sports Centre and swimming pool for three hours each Sunday due to the costs plus the lack of staff willing to work.

The community group then turned to crowd funding to address the issue, raising the money directly from their community - along with donations from the Scottish Secular Society (SSS) and the National Secular Society.

But this too has been rejected by the local council, who accused the group of an “astonishing amount of ignorance” about the islands when it was revealed last week that the money would be presented to the council today.

Now FiSH have vowed to fight on, saying they will not walk away from the issue.

Pauline Matterson, of the group's management committee, has been living in Stornoway since arriving from Canada two years ago. She said: "Over the years the council have changed their position, and this is our latest attempt to get them to change their minds.

"There has always been a lack of engagement, but now we hope to get a clear answer on why they won;t open the pool, because the finance is in place.

"And they are wrong to think that this is the end of it if the money is not accepted. We represent more than 1,500 households in Lewis and Harris, and around 70 per cent of the pool's users supported Sunday access. So we will not just simply go away."

Over the years, Sabbatarianism has become a burning issue on the Western Isles, with the last major disruption to the practice coming in 2009 when Sunday ferry sailings were launched to Lewis.

The Scottish Secular Society have vowed to back FiSH's campaign, with Chairwoman Megan Crawford saying it was "disheartening" see the two parties at loggerheads over the issue.

She said: "Stornoway is no stranger to Sabbatarian influences, where parks are still locked shut on Sundays. Religious domination has no place in modern society.

"The SSS have supported FiSH in their most recent efforts, and will continue to do everything we can to help their community flourish.”

A Western Isles Council spokesman said: “The SSS is mistaken in a number of its assertions which display an astonishing amount of ignorance about both the Comhairle (council) and the islands.

“Councillors take decisions based on a number of factors, including the views of people in their wards. There has been no change in position.”

He added: “The Comhairle will not therefore be accepting the cheque that Fish are offering as to do so would be to accept money under false pretences as we would not be able to use the money for the stated intention.”