The last three months: “law and religion” in 100 posts?

Frank Cranmer writes

When I first began to think about a law and religion blog I imagined that there might possibly be something to post maybe once a week – or twice if the courts were unusually busy. Partly because David joined me in the enterprise and partly because (as I should have realised before I started), there is an immense amount of interaction between domestic and European secular law and “religion” in the wider sense, it soon became clear that that had been a hopeless underestimate. Secular law and religion are constantly bumping up against each other – sometimes because of the inherent tensions between individual moral/religious views and attempts by governments to hold the ring impartially and sometimes because of mere happenstance.

The result is that, having started this blog properly in June – after an initial technical hiccup while I learned how to use WordPress – we have now reached our hundredth post, we are picking up regular subscribers (and rather more followers on Twitter) and we have had over 7,000 page-views. This, of course, is still tiny in comparison with human rights blogs like UKHRB, Law and Lawyers or Human Rights in Ireland – but there are still relatively few blogs that address the niche interests of law and religion.

David’s posts have addressed a broad range of issues: I have tended to focus rather more on the growing amount of case law, of which the most important / memorable stories of the past three months have included:

  • The debate about whether or not those who are terminally ill from degenerative diseases should have access to assisted suicide – occasioned by the tragic case of the late Tony Nicklinson – and the subsequent supportive comments from two new ministers in the Department of Health.
  • The cases of Eweida , Chaplin, Ladele and McFarlane  before the ECtHR and the subsequent debate between those who think that religious beliefs and practices should be treated as a purely personal matter and those who believe that Realpolitik, if nothing else, would suggest otherwise – the German circumcision row being a classical example of the clash between religious conviction and perceived irrationality.
  • Most recently, the latest round in the long-running battle between Catholic Care and the Charity Commission.

As to upcoming issues, the ECtHR judgment in Eweida et al will obviously attract an immense amount of analysis whichever way it goes. Closer to home, however, the Supreme Court is due to hand down judgment in Catholic Child Welfare Society & Ors v Various Claimants & Ors – which (one would hope) will clarify the law in relation to vicarious liability of organisations such as religious orders and church trustees for the tortious behaviour of their members or employees.

Also waiting in the wings is a possible appeal to the Supreme Court in X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau & Ors [2011] EWCA Civ 28, about whether or not a volunteer has employment rights: not much there about law and religion, you might think – until you remember that religious organisations, like other charities, run largely on volunteer effort. The Court of Appeal ruled that volunteers are not employees – but if the SC were to decide that volunteers are, after all, protected by employment law the sky would fall in.

It is still not clear whether or not the Methodist Church will be given leave to appeal President of the Methodist Conference v Preston [2011] EWCA Civ 1581, in which it was held that a Methodist Superintendent minister was an employee with employment rights rather than an office-holder – completely contrary to the Church’s understanding of the nature of its relationship with its ministers. If the case does go to a hearing before the SC, whatever the outcome it is bound to have implications for the Churches generally (with the probable exception of the Church of England which in this, as in so many other things, is sui generis).

Finally, it looks as if we are having a rerun of Bull & Bull v Hall & Preddy [2012] EWCA Civ 83 (10 February 2012) about which David has previously posted – though this time the aggrieved couple are not civil partners. The BBC reports that a gay couple from Cambridgeshire, Michael Black and John Morgan, have sued the owner of the Swiss Bed and Breakfast in Cookham after she refused, on grounds of her religious beliefs, to let them stay in a room with a double bed. The case has been heard at Reading County Court and Ms Recorder Moulder has reserved judgment: no doubt the result will be reported in the media even if the text is not released to BAILII.

Apart from that, who knows? All we can confidently predict is that, if recent experience is anything to go by, we are unlikely to run out of cases to post about.

David Pocklington writes

From our initial discussions in the Maltsters in Llandaff to the recent review meeting in the White Horse in Oxford, Frank and I have been learning the many facets involved in publishing a blog.  As Frank suggests above, there has been no shortage of items to include, and whilst he has covered most of the case law (and many other issues besides), I have pursued my interest in politics, religion and the environment, which has resulted in an eclectic mix of items from circumcision to burial, from the Pussy Riot protest in Moscow to the London Olympics.

There are areas common to both our postings, including same-sex marriage and religious discrimination; but for others it is more difficult to categorize because, rather than following the developing case law on specific legal issues, they fall into more broadly defined, issue-driven areas such as the environment. Important developments in these areas include:

  • The Cardiff LLM course – and whilst the post detailing this years’ thesis titles did not attract as many views as others, it is the work at Cardiff that underpins our joint interest in law and religion, and continues to attract students worldwide. (If we hadn’t done the course, we wouldn’t be writing this blog – FC.) Covering an almost identical timescale to the course, which began in 1991, the Ecclesiastical Law Society celebrated its 25th year with a Silver Jubilee Volume of its Journal, a conference in Cambridge and a reception at Lambeth Palace.
  • Early posts addressed two contrasting aspects of the Church of England’s ambitious Shrinking the Footprint carbon reduction programme and highlighted that, although difficulties have been experienced in the introduction of wind turbines on church-owned land, the seemingly more contentious issue of photo voltaics on Grade I churches has been relatively straightforward.

Still on an environmental theme, churchgoers and commuters have common cause in the theft of scrap metal; and, following a belated “quick fix” modification in sections 145 to 147 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the passage of Richard Ottaway’s Scrap Metal Dealers Bill  will be followed with interest.

  • Issues of birth, marriage and death have been a recurring feature, with the Canadian Medical Association preparing to enter the debate on end-of-life care but resisting a change to the country’s “born alive rule”, which was first set down by Edward Coke (1552–1634) and reflects the state of medical knowledge of the time.
  • This blog attempts to address “[i]ssues of law and religion in the United Kingdom – with occasional forays further afield”; and whilst Northern Ireland has had relatively little coverage, issues in the Principality have included the Church in Wales’s response to the Equal Civil Marriage Consultation – Rydym yma o hyd, the medieval manuscript Cyfraith Hywel and the Review of the Church in WalesArolwg yr Eglwys yng Nghymru. North of the border, the prospect of the resurgence in Gretna Green weddings was considered; and Frank has tried to make sure that the Scottish dimension has not been allowed to go by default – not least because it often provides an interesting counterpoint to what happens south of the border.

Readers will be aware that to date we have not mentioned women bishops, the disastrous impact that disputes over human sexuality are having within – and to – the Anglican Communion or the selection of a new Archbishop of Canterbury.  These are not necessarily no-go areas; but to date they have been well covered by other sites.

As Frank notes above, there appears to be no shortage of topics on which to write; and we will attempt to continue with four to five posts per week that are of relevant to those with an interest in law and religion.

4 thoughts on “The last three months: “law and religion” in 100 posts?

  1. Just wanted to say how much I enjoy and learn from your posts. I would love to do a course in Canon Law but being based in Cambridge, Cardiff is a bit far for me. Still, reading this blog has really kept my interest in this area, which is a fascinating one, where secular and canon law interact. Please keep up the good work.

  2. The Cardiff LLM is a distance learning degree, and whilst attendance at the weekend sessions is mandatory, this amounts to only 4 weekends for each of its two years. It attracts participants on a worldwide basis, and during my two years, there were students from the US, Canada, Jamaica, Ireland, as well as the UK.
    This current weekend (the evening of friday 21st September to lunchtime on Sunday 23rd November) is the first for the new intake, but in past years the University has been flexible as to when students join, providied they meet all the attendance requirements, (i.e. if you miss a weekend, it is necessary to attend in a following year).
    If you are keen to join the course, why not email/phone Professor Norman Doe , his contact details are on the web?

  3. I understand that the Methodist Church has been given leave to appeal to the Supreme Court against the Court of Appeal’s decision in Preston and that the hearing is scheduled for February 2013. Watch this space…

  4. Pingback: Gay couples, bed, breakfast and human rights | Law & Religion UK

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