The Scottish Secular Society’s response to controversy on Lewis

Posted by on 11 November, 2017 | 0 comments

This letter was sent to The Herald in response to this article on the harassment of  a Lewis shop owner who decided to open her shop on Sundays.


To the editor,

The Scottish Secular Society was the first secular organisation to respond to calls for help by residents of Lewis and Harris regarding their community’s heavy-handed Sabbatarian practices. We took the position then that we take today, that people in Scotland should be allowed to worship/not worship by the means they feel are right for themselves, while maintaining the respectful understanding that no religious practices should ever be forced on anyone. In your article “Further compromise may be needed in Lewis over the Sabbath” (14 Nov 2017), you state that Sabbatarian practices are ‘wilfully old-fashioned’. Given that Christians, as you rightly acknowledge, still maintain the practice of keeping Sundays ‘holy’ and see it as an important element of their religious and island identity, it is clear their Sabbatarian principles are just as modern and alive as any others on their island. And those who wish to practice Sunday silence for their own lives deserve our understanding and acceptance, as much as any other non-violent, personal, religious practice. Being ‘old-fashioned’ has nothing to do with it.

The problem is that some Sabbatarians on Lewis and Harris are not showing the same respect, understanding, and acceptance of their fellow neighbours. The ones their very Bible instructs them to be sympathetic towards, compassionate, and love (1 Peter 3:8). For this very reason, I take issue with your statement that it is ultimately up to the people of Lewis to decide how far to keep their Sabbath holy. Rather, it is up to the individual person how s/he chooses to live out their religious practices. It is neither up to the community, nor the Church to decide these matters for all. The community is responsible for showing mutual respect to all its members. Scottish law and the business owner are responsible for determining business hours.

The residents of Lewis and Harris have both enjoyed and suffered the position of isolation from the national narrative for too long. These clashes with Sabbatarian rule are not new, they are just finally getting the attention they desperately need.


Megan Crawford
Chair, Scottish Secular Society

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