Church and local government officials in London said on Friday they would go to court to evict anti-capitalist protesters camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, as the iconic church reopened after a weeklong closure.
The City of London Corporation said it was launching legal action on the grounds that the protest is an “unreasonable user of the highway.”
“Protest is an essential right in a democracy but camping on the highway is not and we believe we will have a strong highways case because an encampment on a busy thoroughfare clearly impacts the rights of others,” said Michael Welbank, a member of the corporation’s planning and transportation committee.
St. Paul’s Cathedral agreed that “legal action has regrettably become necessary.”
Several hundred protesters have been camped outside the building since October 15. Days later, cathedral officials shut the building, saying the campsite represented a health and safety hazard.
It was the first time the 300-year-old church, one of London’s best-known buildings, had closed since World War II.
The cathedral reopened at mid-day on Friday with a special Eucharist service, including prayers for the demonstrators.
The protest has divided managers of the cathedral. Some have called for the protesters to leave, but senior clergyman Giles Fraser resigned Thursday, saying he feared moves to evict the camp could end in violence.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey criticised the cathedral’s handling of the protest, saying the situation had become a “debacle” that could hurt Christianity’s image.
“My paramount concern throughout has been that the reputation of Christianity is being damaged by the episode, and, more widely, that the possibility of fruitful and peaceful protest has been brought into disrepute,” Rev. Carey wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday called for the stalemate to be resolved. He said he supported the right to protest, but this did not include “the freedom to pitch a tent almost anywhere you want to in London.”
“I have a feeling that if you or I decided to pitch a tent in the middle of Oxford Street we’d be moved on very quickly,” Mr. Cameron told reporters at a Commonwealth summit in Perth, Australia. “It’s vitally important places like St. Paul’s Cathedral are open to the public.”