Blogging on law & religion – 250-odd posts: 50,000 hits

Yesterday we notched up 50,000 page-views. That hardly makes us the on-line publishing sensation of 2013 – the admirable UK Human Rights Blog has just passed two million – but it does suggest that we are getting something right at least some of the time. Perhaps most important, we have received very few comments or e-mails telling us that we have got something positively wrong – though when we do, we are always grateful to those who point out our errors and we correct them asap. Nevertheless, “law and religion” is such a broad field that in commenting on current issues, we sometimes stray well outside our respective comfort zones, though what we write is backed up by research and internal checks.

What “50,000 page-views” actually means is another matter entirely. Some might be by those who are intentionally seeking something on the blog; others might be views by people who arrive here by accident or the mysterious workings of Google. And at the moment we get about 25 or 30 spam trackbacks every day – so given that over the past three months we have been running at around 300 daily page-views, about ten per cent of them have been from rubbish sites that want to help you reduce your waistline, sell you a fake Rolex or an Xbox (whatever that might be) or one or two things that are unmentionable in respectable company. However, we have now installed new software which claims to be capturing 98.41% of incoming spam. Our apologies to the 1.59% of serious comments that get caught and which we fail to retrieve.

Academic blogging is rather like running one’s own on-line, non-peer-reviewed journal, with total editorial control and no need to grapple with publishers’ style guides – all of which sounds very jolly and far less stressful than traditional hard-copy publication, of which both of us by now have had considerable experience. The down-side is that a legal blog is a Graffiti Wall of Death. You’re on your own: write complete drivel and there’s no-one standing over you to tell you what rubbish it all is – until it hits the blog-page and people start pointing out your mistakes. So, in essence, we constantly have to peer-review ourselves and each other.

A welcome trend has been an increase in the discussion on points of law. Comments are almost invariably approved – especially the critical ones. Where we do draw the line, however, is at total irrelevance. This blog is meant to be about law and religion, not Life, the Universe and Everything;  we interpret our brief pretty widely and include items on human rights, constitutional matters, the environment, food hygiene and health and safety where they have a direct bearing on law and religion.  But more general coverage of such topics is not what we are about: for example, arguments about the legality or otherwise of the UK’s membership of the EU. Whether that membership is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of heated debate – but as to its legality see the European Communities Act 1972. And if you wish to discuss matters of constitutional law there are plenty of other sites you can do that on: for a start, try the UK Constitutional Law Blog – the clue is in the name.

The WordPress statistics indicate that, perhaps inevitably, one of the biggest areas of interest in terms of hits has been the continuing saga of women as bishops in the Church of England: particularly Women as bishops: should Parliament intervene? and Are the laity revolting?. Slightly more unexpected has been the interest in the controversy surrounding the Preston Down Trust: Charitable status, public benefit and “closed” congregations and its associated posts.  Most surprising, however, is the fact that the post that has received the greatest number of hits – over 1,000 – is Church and State – an idiot’s guide. It  was written largely out of despair that commentators who should know better seem incapable of getting even the basic categories right – but we never expected it generate so much interest.

The start of 2013 coincided with our 200th post, in which we summarized what we thought were the important issues in law and religion since the start of regular posts in mid-June 2013.  We also initiated a monthly “forthcoming events” item complimenting our weekly round-up of major items of previous seven days and shorter pieces on issues that did not warrant a full post.

In the eight weeks from 1 January there have been important developments in a number of areas, including the resignation of Benedict XVI, the ECtHR judgment in EweidaChaplinLadele and McFarlane, the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury, confirmation of the identity of Richard III’s remains, the consultation on women in the episcopate of the Church of England, the introduction of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill and the Succession to the Crown Bill.

There has also been a steady stream of human rights and charity cases through the courts, including AI v MT [2013] EWHC (Fam) (a widely-misreported case about a consent order in relation to arbitration in matrimonial proceedings by the New York Beth Din), Heafield v Times Newspaper Ltd [2013] UKEAT (whether or not abusive words about the Pope uttered under pressure were “harassment” of a Roman Catholic employee within the meaning of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003) and Vojnity v Hungary [2013] ECHR (about denial of child custody and access to a divorced husband on grounds of his “irrational” religious views).

The next major cases in the pipeline are Preston in the Supreme Court (whether or not a Methodist minister has employment rights) and Doogan in the Inner House of the Court of Session (about the conscientious opt-out under the Abortion Act 1967), both of which have concluded their oral hearings. But  litigation about disputes involving religion in the broad sense seems to be a growth-industry, so we are unlikely to run out of stuff to blog about any time soon.