Religion and Law roundup: 6th November

In what is becoming a regular component of this web log, here is a summary of some of the events that were covered during last week, some that were missed, and the odd trailer for future ones.  Normally the round-up will appear on Sunday/Monday, but as a consequence of thesis demands and a weekend break, this present edition has been slightly delayed.

The cause of atheists excluded from the Boy Scout movement, described here, has been taken up by the National Secular Society, here, which launched a petition on 1st November urging the Scout Association to rethink its religious policy.  At the time of writing, this had attracted the support of 1,646 signatories. An interesting point is the NSS’s statement that B-P is believed to have written an alternative promise, known as the ‘Outlander Oath’, ‘intended for those who, for reasons of conscience, could not recognize a “duty to God” and did not worship a deity. It omitted any reference to God or a monarch and, according to scout leaders, was in use as late as the 1990s.’  As noted in our earlier post, ‘we suspect that this might not be the end of the story’.

The other continuing saga is that of the bones discovered at the site of Grey Friars church in Leicester, which in addition to a couple of EDMs and PQs, has elicited the statement from Helen Grant, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice that

‘My Department issued a licence to exhume human remains which could be those of Richard III. Remains have now been exhumed and archaeologists are currently carrying out tests to determine the identity of the remains. Should they be found to be those of Richard III, the current plan is for them to be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.’

Perhaps someone might undertake a Freedom of Information request from the MoJ to elicit further details of the s25 licence, i.e. where and when the remains are to be re-buried?

To date, the University of Leicester has been more than willing to provide the media with details of the Grey Friars dig and the possible identity of the fully articulated skeleton that was found, here, but the Minister’s statement was followed by the cautionary note from the head of the academic team at Leicester warning ‘Don’t jump to conclusions’.

In the last week we have reported a number of cases including: X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau & Ors [2011] EWCA Civ 28 (26 January 2011) following the conclusion of the Supreme Court hearing in the Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau case concerning the issue of whether employment rights are afforded to volunteers, here; Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) v Charity Commission for England and Wales [2012] CA/2010/0007 UKUT (Tax & Chancery) (2 November 2012) in which the Upper Tribunal held that the policy of the Charity Catholic Care, which bans adoption by same-sex couples, was illegal, here; and a short update on the Attorney General’s evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee on prisoners’ voting, here.

The Church of England’s General Synod will take place on 17th to 19th November, at which two new Canons will be discussed. The proposed amendment to Canon B 12§3 concerning the distribution of Holy Communion by children who have not been concerned was discussed here, and that relating to women bishops will be the subject of a later post. There has been no further information from the Crown Nominations Commission on the name of the next Archbishop of Canterbury, so we will continue to update our draft post concerning his appointment until the announcement is made.

However, following the 24-hour selection process of a new Primate of All Ireland, reported here, we have had a further example of a nomination process from the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. This involved a ‘long list’ of 17 being reduced to a shortlist of 5 by a papal nomination committee, then to 3 by 2,400 electors, and the Pope finally chosen by a blindfolded altar boy. The process thus involves both clergy and people, and the final ‘altar lottery’ ‘allows God to guide the final choice’.

There is also a row bubbling up over what is now a perennial argument about the Charity Commission’s interpretation of religion and public benefit. (Strangely enough, no-one seems to have any great problem with the attitude of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator – but the Scots legislation is not quite on all fours with the English). The source of the dispute is a letter from the Commission to the Exclusive Brethren on the subject of the Preston Down Trust which the Telegraph quotes as follows:

‘In a letter to the Plymouth [sic] Brethren, the watchdog set out its most recent decision that “there is no presumption that religion generally, or at any more specific level, is for the public benefit, even in the case of Christianity or the Church of England”.’

As it happens, we have seen the letter in question and it is considerably more nuanced that the quote suggests – a matter that we may possibly pursue in a future post.

Finally, there has been a spate of news items concerning the significance, or not, of Halloween: The Scotsman notes that a primary school in Paisley has banned Halloween over fears it could offend religious pupils, here; the Catholic Herald reports that bishops are advising children to dress as saints, not witches, here, as part of a worldwide initiative to revive All Saints Eve, here. Dame Catherine Wybourne (the Digital Nun) provides further insights to the celebration of All Saints and All Souls at Howton Grove Priory, here and here.

The Guardian reports that in the UK, Hallowe’en accounts for £300M, and in Whitby the associated  Goth Weekend creates in an uneasy tension in St Mary’s churchyard, between the church authorities and those wishing to use this Dracula-related venue as a backdrop for their photographs.  The churchyard was closed in 1861, but contains the graves of many local families.

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