The Scottish Government has been accused of using “double-speak” in trying to justify its reasons for lockdown measures against places of worship.

A group of 27 church leaders launched a judicial review at the Court of Session arguing that Ministers acted outwith their powers when ordering the closure of places of worship under emergency legislation.

However, at a virtual hearing on Friday, it was heard the First Minister had argued that churches were not shut as they could still be used for occasions such as marriages.

Janys Scott QC, representing the group, said: “Without wanting to resort to hyperbole, what is worryingly insidious about the way this has been presented to us politically is, ‘oh no, we haven’t closed your churches’ – and that’s in the face of a regulation that says places of public worship will be closed.

“That’s what the First Minister said and that’s what’s been said in the course of argument for the Scottish Ministers.

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“When one starts using double-speak like that one gets to exactly the issue which Article 9 is designed to forfend.

“I’m saying this from the perspective of a group of ministers and church elders who want to defend their right to worship, but it is there as an underlying point which is protected for good reason by the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Aidan O’Neill, representing additional party Canon Tom White, argued the Scottish Government should not be deciding which purposes religious premises can be used for.

He said: “We object to the Government telling us which sacraments we can lawfully carry out, we object to the fact that criminal sanctions are in place for any breach of those regulations.

“This is a fundamental chilling impact on worship and belief.

“It requires people in good conscience to choose between God and Caesar – and Caesar’s threats are backed by the threat of violence, the monopoly of violence of the state.”

James Mure QC, representing Ministers, told the court the dispute was not over religious freedom – which is an “absolute” right – but rather how the decisions were reached.

HeraldScotland:

James Mure QC, for the Scottish Government, said: “These are judgements which ultimately have to fall to Government to make and they are accountable for their decisions – particularly in the Scottish Parliament, which has scrutinised these decisions, considered and approved them in the Scottish Parliament.

“It reflects the underlying fact that there has to be a government to take these decisions, to strike a balance.

“This is essentially a case about judging the substance and impact of the regulations – and not the process that brought them into being.”

He added: “The modelling, the productions about NHS capacity, the sharp rising deaths – which we now know; December, January and February were very bad months – all these demonstrated that extreme measures were required.”

Mr Mure said the criminal aspect was for going outside for an unacceptable reason and that a number of civil options were available before using the full force of the law.

The court was also previously told there is a constitutional settlement separating the powers of the church and state, with Ministers accused of crossing that line.

Judge Lord Braid said he will issue a written judgement within two weeks.