This week, British police shut down a Good Friday service at a Roman Catholic church in south London, describing the “gathering” as “unlawful.”
Interrupting a Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion service at Christ the King Polish church in Balham, a police officer was asked to explain the situation to the congregation.
“Ladies and gentleman,” the officer began. “This gathering is unfortunately law — unlawful under the Coronavirus regulations we have currently.”
Police broke up a Good Friday service in the United Kingdom.
If you ever needed an example of why the First Amendment is important… pic.twitter.com/37IEvQJsTj
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“You are not allowed to meet inside with this many people under law,” the officer continued. “At this moment in time, you need to go home.”
The officer then proceeded to threaten the congregation, saying that they could be fined or even arrested if they failed to comply.
“Failure to comply with this direction to leave and go to your home address ultimately could lead you to be fined £200 or, if you fail to give your details, to you being arrested,” he said.
“I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, though it is quite a — it is Good Friday, and I appreciate you would like to worship, [that] this gathering is unlawful, so please may you leave,” the officer added.
According to Sky News, “The church has criticized the police for interrupting the service, saying it believes the officers ‘brutally exceeded their powers by issuing their warrant for no good reason’ because ‘all government requirements were met.’”
“It said it had informed the superiors of the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales about the incident and asked the police to explain,” the Sky News report added.
The Metropolitan Police, responsible for law enforcement across the 32 London boroughs, reportedly confirmed that an “engagement” took place at Christ the King Polish church, and that they were responding to a report of “crowds of people queuing outside a church in Balham High Road.”
“Officers attended and found a large number of people inside the church. Some people were not wearing masks and those present were clearly not socially distanced,” the police statement said.
The statement reportedly continued, noting that the officers were concerned about the spread of COVID-19 due to indoor gatherings which involved the failure to socially distance or wear masks.
“We are particularly concerned about the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus as a result of large indoor gatherings at which people are not socially distanced and some are not wearing masks,” the statement continued.
“As such, officers made the decision that it was not safe for that particular service to continue,” the statement concluded.
Sky News noted that “[t]he church claims that the latest government guidelines for Lent, Holy Week and Easter ‘clearly allow — with all sanitary rules — to be celebrated in places of worship with the participation of the faithful.’”
According to the current COVID-19 guidance provided by the U.K. government, communal religious gatherings can be attended “by as many people as the place of worship can safely accommodate,” while adding that those in attendance should socially distance from anyone outside of their household or “support bubble.”