Religion and Law round up – 7th April

Another fairly quiet week… 

The European Union and the ECHR

The European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights is required under Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty and foreseen by Article 59 of the ECHR as amended by the Protocol 14. New Europe Online reports that Council of Europe and EU negotiators have reached initial agreement on the EU’s accession after three years of negotiations.

The importance of this for human rights generally (including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 9 ECHR) cannot be underestimated. Accession by the EU corporately means that the EU as an institution will have to comply with Convention rights but, more important, it will help to bind the individual member states of the EU more closely into the provisions of the Convention. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, in effect, already incorporates the Convention into EU law by affirming in its Preamble, inter alia,

“… the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms … and the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Communities and of the European Court of Human Rights”.

In addition, as well as providing for the EU’s accession to the ECHR Article 6(2) and (3) of the Treaty of Lisbon state that

“… [f]undamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, shall constitute general principles of the Union’s law”.

Nevertheless, the movement among many Conservatives to extricate the UK from the ECHR seems to be gathering force. On 6 April the Telegraph quoted the Lord Chancellor as follows:

“Renegotiating our relationship with the European Union and putting it to a referendum, and sorting out the human rights issue are two things where we don’t have and we won’t have a majority for in this parliament before the election, much as I wish we did. I would love to start both of these things tomorrow…”.

However, answering questions at a lecture at the LSE on 13 March Lady Hale JSC argued that if the UK were to leave the ECHR it would be required to leave the EU as well, because in order to remain in the EU the UK would have to subscribe to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – which in any case includes rights similar to those set out in the ECHR. Moreover, “the EU is about to accede to the European Convention as well. So those factors might make it slightly unlikely that they would allow us to remain in”.

Back to where we started. Further comment is superfluous…

Hate crime in Greater Manchester

Perhaps the most interesting news of the week was the announcement by Greater Manchester Police that it has begun recording as hate crimes attacks on members of subcultures such as punks, goths and emos. The issue was brought into sharp focus in 2007 by the murder of a twenty-year-old goth, Sophie Lancaster, attacked by youths in a park in Bacup because of the way she was dressed.

Which is entirely laudable as an aim; but the question remains, how are members of these groups to be defined? In an interesting comment on the move, Andrew Azzopardi, of the University of Malta, suggests that this is a serious problem, particularly in the case of emos. He quotes Jon Garland, a criminologist at the University of Surrey, to the effect that self-definition is the only viable option. But Garland goes on to point out that

“… it still leaves the question of who counts as alternative and who doesn’t? Skaters are a group that probably should be recognised, they are often victims of these kinds of attacks, but it is not clear if they are included.”

The  Jewish Chronicle and YouGov

To mark the start of Holy Week and to refresh interest in its Pray One for Me website, the Church of England released the results of an ICM Survey in which it claimed “Four out of five believe in the power of prayer”. Its conclusion, based upon responses to the question “Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, what would it be for?” grabbed media attention in view of the apparent spin placed upon the findings by the Church.

However, the human rights community largely neglected – or maybe missed – the survey in the Jewish Chronicle about attitudes to religious slaughter of animals and religious circumcision. Our own reaction was that the results are rather worrying. Ritual slaughter of animals without pre-stunning has long been somewhat controversial and seems to be becoming more so – which is fine, always so long as the debate is conducted openly and on the basis of scientific data. But it would be quite disgraceful if the unacknowledged subtext was minority religions and (not to put too fine a point on it) it merely became a respectable front for antisemitism and islamophobia.

April Fools’ Day

April 1st is often used by commercial organizations as an opportunity to place spoof new items or advertisements to bring their products to the attention of the general public.  In a similar vein, Fr Z’s blog carried the item SSPX stunning announcement! purporting to be issued by the followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre in the Society of St. Pius X, announcing the creation of an SSPX “Ordinariate” for Catholics who wish to celebrate the Novus Ordo according to the official rubrics.  The creation of the Ordinariate through Modernistorum coetibus was said to be sparked by the recent decision of Pope Francis “to wash the feet of women during a Holy Thursday liturgy, (see below).

On less controversial grounds, the Archbishop Cranmer blog posted the item Giles Fraser to be next Bishop of Durham although for the avoidance of doubt, Thinking Anglicans drew the attention of its readers to the date of the post. However, a year ago, a headline “Former Oil Executive to be Archbishop” would have seemed equally improbable, to Justin Welby as well as others.


In our last round up we noted the controversy caused by Pope Francis I when he washed the feet of two women in the non-obligatory Mandatum rite on Holy Thursday.  It was clear in advance from the announcement by the Vatican Information Service on 26 March that certain aspects of the service would be controversial [1].  These controversies have continued, here and here for example, as various commentators attempted to interpret the significance of the Pope’s actions, a task made more difficult by a lack of understanding of the relevant legislation in some quarters, and a degree of uncertainty regarding statements by the Vatican spokesperson.  A more detailed analysis falls outside our comfort zone, and readers may wish to follow events herehere, and here – all “traditionalist” bloggers, but ones relating their comments to the relevant canon law.

Annual Parochial Church Meetings

The Electoral Roll, which forms the basis of the democratic process by which the Church of England is governed, operates on a six-year cycle (with annual revisions), and applications for inclusion on new Roll closed on 31 March. These and other provisions on church governance fall within the Church Representation Rules(a.k.a. Schedule 3 to the Synodical Government Measure 1969, as amended), which include detailed timetables and election options for the Annual Vestry and Parochial Church Meetings at which officers and PCC members are elected.

Similar provisions apply to the Church in Wales within its Constitutionand we reported on Jones v Archbishop of Wales which addresses the remedies available to an ordinary in the case of the irregular conduct of elections. This provides a timely reminder to all those involved in the conduct and regulation of elections to ensure strict adherence to the requirements, though it remains a mystery as to how the incumbent could think that a PCC comprising 34 elected members would ever be an effective decision-making body.

Meeting of the Church in Wales Governing Body, 10-11 April

Remaining with the Church in Wales, next week there will be a meeting of its Governing Body, at which the ordination of women as bishops will be discussed by clergy and lay people. Using a facilitated discussion model similar to that used by the working group in the Church of England, the 144 members of the Governing Body will be divided into seven groups, each led by a bishop, and they will consider two papers – one outlining the case for the ordination of women and one setting out the case against. These discussions precede the introduction of a two-stage Bill to the Governing Body in September to ordain women as bishops, although that legislation will not be addressed by the groups next week.

Another equally important Agenda item will be group discussion and plenary session on the Church in Wales Review which in view some of its recommendations (e.g. replacement of parishes by much larger ‘ministry areas’, served by a team of clergy and lay people), has the potential for even greater change than the introduction of women to the episcopate. The Report of the Standing Committee summarizes the progress made on both these important areas.

eChurch blog

Following his Lenten blog-cation, we were sorry to learn that Stuart James had taken the decision to “hang up his blogging boots” after a four-year stretch of daily blogging. Since 2010 the eChurch blog has been one of the top-ten blogs within the ebuzzing ranking of “religion and belief” and for a period from September to December 2011 was at either #1 or #2. We are fortunate to have such a variety of blogs in this area, but nevertheless will miss those that we visit frequently.

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