Religion and Law roundup: 21st October

In addition to our daily posts, there are further developments in areas that have been covered earlier, as well as other news items that do not warrant a dedicated post. To overcome these lacunae we have produced a short summary of some of the more interesting items over the past week.

Copycat Pussy Riot at St Paul’s Cathedral

Imitation may be the best form of flattery, but opinion is mixed on the group of four women who chained themselves to the pulpit of St Paul’ Cathedral during Evensong on 14th October. A summary of these conflicting interpretations of the event is available at Thinking Anglicans.

The Cathedral’s version of events, here, states that during a service which was planned to incorporate prayers by Occupy Faith and a sermon concerning need for partnership between Occupy, St Paul’s and others in addressing the need for financial and political change which Occupy had highlighted.

Following the service, the Dean said

‘[a]fter working constructively together with Occupy Faith on this act of worship, we regret the abuse of the Cathedral’s hospitality and its daily worship. We also disagree with the way in which some protesters are continuing to pursue the agenda of conflict with St Paul’s, rather than consulting with us about how together we might better achieve the reforms which many people including Occupy are looking for.’

The event occurred a year after Occupy London commenced its four-month protest, pitching tents outside the cathedral in protest against corporate greed. The BBC reported, here, that Occupy London had tweeted that they were also protesting ‘in solidarity’ with Russian punk band Pussy Riot, who were jailed in August for two years after staging an anti-Vladimir Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral.

However, there are mixed messages coming from the report, between: the police statement indicating that ‘Cathedral staff were happy for them to remain there’; and that of Occupy, ‘the women cut themselves free at about 22:00 BST after City of London Police entered the cathedral’ and were warned by officers that they faced arrest.

Across in Moscow, however, the sanctions imposed on Pussy Riot are more severe, and two members are continuing their 2-year sentence – Yekaterina Samutsevich having been released since she hadn’t time to remove her guitar from its case, here. Her ‘intent’ didn’t seem to feature in the reports of proceedings, and lawyer Irina Khrunova is claiming that that the arrest of her client was an infringement of the freedom to express opinion and “violates the Article 10 of the European Convention that guarantees the freedom of speech.” It is expected that the final and detailed complaint will be submitted with ECtHR before the end of the year.

However, it is reported here that following a Vatican meeting between Pope Benedict and the Patriarch Kirill’s external affairs representative, a Press Notice appeared on the Partirch’s web site stating:

‘Pope Benedict XVI expressed his solidarity with the position of the Russian Orthodox Church and his surprise with respect to the reaction of some of the media on these events’.

Furthermore, the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi is reported as telling The Independent:

‘I have nothing to say. This was reported on the site of the Russian Patriarch and it was about a meeting I was not privy to. I have no intention of disturbing the Pope to ask him about it.’

Church Repairs

In addition to Chancel Repair Liability which was reported here, the problem of lead thefts continues to raise concern. One the positive side, it is reported in the Church Times that there has been a significant reduction in the incidence of metal thefts from churches and other buildings as a result of: falling metal prices; increased security measures; and action by the police and local authorities.

October 11th was designated a national day of action for Operation Tornado, a multi-agency initiative involving: the police; HMRC; Department for Work and Pensions; Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA); British Transport Police; Environment Agency, and SEPA. As a result of this and other measures, some police forces have reported falls in thefts of up a 50 per cent, and Ecclesiastical, which insures many Church of England buildings, has dealt with 770 claims totalling £1.3M during the first nine months of 2012, compared with 2100 totalling £4.5M for the same period in 2011.

On the negative side, the costs associated with church roof repairs and the problems of attempting to circumvent the faculty jurisdiction were highlighted by the case of St Mary the Blessed Virgin, Eastry, Kent, here and here. The replacement of lead from the roof of the Grade I listed 13th century church with the artificial non-metal alternative, Ubiflex, in the absence of a faculty or planning permission may result in the builder being required to refund ~£93,000 to the PCC.

Christian Media Awards

On 19th October, Skinners’ Hall in London was the scene for the 6th Annual UK Christian New Media Awards, the winners of which are announced here. The Awards were launched by Premier Christian Media in 2007

‘in recognition of the power and potential of communication in the Digital Age . . . . . to encourage and reward innovation and creativity in the Christian Community. In particular, the awards look to commend those who seek to use New Media to reach out to the wider world in an ever more sophisticated media landscape.’

The 14 Awards include: People’s Choice; Best Christian Blog; Best Christian Blog by someone under 25; Most Inspiring Leadership Blog; Best Newcomer Blog; Micro-Blogger of the Year; Best Christian Organisation Website; Best Large Church Website; Best Small Church Website; Accessibility Award; Best Use of New Media in Outreach; Best Use of Mobile; Creative Agency of the Year; Most Creative Use of Social Media.

Whatever doubts one might have over the many award categories, the existence of such an event highlights the extent to which a wide range of digital media are being used by religious groups, and poses the question ‘why are some churches so poor in this important area?’ Perhaps there should be a ‘name and shame’ site for examples of bad church (or diocese) web sites along the lines of Bad Vestments.

Funeral Music

Co-operative Funeralcare is the UK’s leading funeral director, and with over 880 funeral homes throughout the country, is in a position to identify current trends, as in The Ways We Say Goodbye, the study of 21st century UK funeral customs which it published in 2011. The group recently released the results of its 2012 survey of the music chosen for funeral ceremonies over the past 12 months, which shows the steady rise in popular music in place of more traditional hymns.

The study charts the steady reduction in the use of hymns at funerals: in 2005 they accounted for 41 per cent of all funeral music requests, while in 2012 this had fallen to just 30 per cent. The most popular hymn was Abide With Me and the favourite classical piece was Nimrod from the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar. My Way is the UK’s longest running number one song and is requested at 15 per cent of funerals, with six of Sinatra’s hits the Co-ops lists, making him the most popular artist of all.

Whilst some might suggest that the decreasing use of hymns is an indicator of increased secularization of funerals, this does not appear to be borne out by the Co-op’s earlier survey. In 2011, the Co-op reported that 67% of its funerals in the UK followed a ‘traditional’ form using the rites of a particular religion, and included a service led by a recognized minister. Although 21% were characterized as ‘contemporary’, (i.e. focusing on the life of the individual), these nevertheless retained ‘an element of religion, such as a hymn or prayer’. Only 12% were classified as ‘humanist’, having no religious content.

[Update, 2 May 2019: Funeral Music Chart 2019: ‘My Way’ or the highway].

“Scout’s honour”

According to newspaper reports, an eleven-year-old has been told that he cannot join the Scouts because, as a non-believer, he refuses to make the Scout Promise, which reads:

“On my honour, I promise that I will do my best

To do my duty to God and to the Queen,

To help other people

And to keep the Scout Law”.

The Metro quoted Simon Carter, a spokesman for the Scout Association, to the effect that it was necessary to make the Scout Promise to become a Scout:

‘Variations of the Scout Promise are available for different faiths (such as the use of “Allah” to replace “God” for Muslim Scouts), however all variations of the Promise must recognise the “Duty to God” element”.

We suspect that this might not be the end of the story.

5 thoughts on “Religion and Law roundup: 21st October

  1. The discrimination against a non-religious scout beggars belief. This sort of thing happens in the hyper-religious US (where gay scout leaders are also banned) but I’ve never heard of it happening here. And surely it can’t be legal? It also is a bit bizarre that Buddhists are “allowed” given they are mostly also atheist.

    • The Scout Association website has a page on Religion in Scouting, which has a link to the various forms of the Scout Promise.

      Your point about Buddhists is very interesting from a Quaker perspective. Some Friends believe in God (however defined): others do not. What we do all agree on, however, is a flat refusal to swear oaths of any kind, on the basis that one ought to tell the truth as a matter of moral duty and that swearing oaths is therefore otiose.

      I wonder whether, strictly speaking, the Scout Promise might be an “oath” in Quaker terms. That said, however, I rather doubt that many young Friends join the Scouts or Guides. I suspect that the Woodcraft Folk might be more their cup of tea.

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