Since the courts forced the reopening of places of worship in Scotland, I have attended church at least once a week. Every time I have attended, I have been legally required to wear a face covering despite often sitting two metres or further from other members of the congregation.

But this is the same law that allows me to sit in a full football stadium without a face mask. The law also permits my drinking in a packed pub or dancing in a jammed nightclub, again with no facemask.

As a director of Freedom Declared Foundation, a charity which aims to promote freedom of religion or belief in the United Kingdom, I often ask myself why there is such an inconsistency within the law.

Surely there is much more chance of catching Covid-19 within a packed pub or nightclub than there is a well-ventilated place of worship?

Surely drunken sports fans crammed into supporter buses are more likely to spread the virus than somebody attending a place of worship without a face mask?

I thought Monday 21st March would’ve been a day to celebrate the re-establishment of consistency in Scottish law, but sadly I was mistaken after the First Minister announced an extension of the legal requirement of face masks in places of worship.

Others do rightly point out that it is not only within places of worship that face masks are required, with face coverings still legally required in shops, cafes, and public transport. But the requirement to wear face masks within the classroom was recently dropped, so why is it still in place for those who attend a place of worship?

I have recently been conducting a series of interviews about the state of freedom of religion or belief in the UK for Freedom Declared Foundation. Within these interviews, a recurring concern that has been raised is the lack of religious or belief literacy within Government and the civil service.

I believe that the inconsistencies within Scottish law regarding the wearing of face coverings is an example of this religious illiteracy.

At the start of the pandemic, places of worship were immediately closed across the UK. This decision was judged not to infringe on the fundamental human right of freedom of religion or belief - which clearly states that all humans should have the freedom to practise, worship and manifest their faith in public - due to the motivation to protect public health. With no knowledge about how Covid spreads, this was an understandable decision.

By the time of the second lockdown, there was greater understanding about the spread of the virus. Taking this evidence into account, the UK Government kept places of worship open, with the desire to uphold Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but with tight restrictions.

To the contrary, however, the Scottish Government once again closed places of worship. This was despite the Scottish Government adapting how juries practised, understanding the importance of upholding the right to a fair trial. Personally, I found it deeply concerning that the Scottish Government did not understand the importance of upholding the right to worship publicly.

Thankfully, I was not the only one. Led by Canon Tom White, and supported by others throughout Scotland, there was a successful legal challenge which forced the Scottish Government to reopen places of worship.

I mention this because it highlights the Scottish Government’s track record of infringing the fundamental human right of freedom of religion or belief throughout the pandemic.

I do not believe that these infringements are malicious, but I do believe that they occurred because of a lack of religious literacy within government and the civil service. Using different examples, I would also accuse governments across the UK of the same religious and belief illiteracy.

And it is this illiteracy which I believe is the cause of the inconsistency within the law regarding face masks.

Despite being asked numerous times, the Scottish Government have not been able to produce the evidence to support their law requiring face masks in places of worship.

On its own, this lack of evidence should be enough for the Government to end the legal requirement to wear face masks in places of worship. Combined with the massive inconsistencies within the law, however, there can be no doubt that this legal requirement must end.

James Bundy is director of operations at the Freedom Declared Foundation

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