Religion and Law round up – 12th May

A week in which the announcement of a forthcoming retirement seemed to drive the Queen’s Speech off the front pages… 

Abortion in Ireland

The Irish Government has published the General Scheme of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 – in effect, a draft Bill with Explanatory Notes – on which the Joint Committee of the Oireachtas on Health and Children is about to begin public hearings. As a consequence of the Bill, the Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, has come under pressure both at home and abroad. There have been protests at the Jesuit-run Boston College in the US where he is due to speak at the Commencement and receive an honorary LLD. The Cardinal Archbishop of Boston,  Sean O’Malley, who traditionally delivers the final benediction at Boston College’s Commencement each year, has stated that he will boycott the event. The Boston College President, Rev. William Leahy, is also being petitioned to rescind the invitation to the Taoiseach.

In addition, there is considerable disquiet in other circles regarding the attitude of the Irish Bishops as to whether the Taoiseach should be refused communion under the provisions of Canon 915 (CIC), Ecclesia de Eucharistia and other statements of the law, here. Similar objections arose when pro-abortion Catholic Democrats, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Vice-President Joe Biden, received Holy Communion at Pope Francis’s Mass for the beginning of his pontificate on 19 March, here.

Assisted Dying

Lord Falconer has announced that he intends to present his Assisted Dying proposals as a Private Member’s Bill on 15 May. On 2 May was the final event in this year’s Westminster Faith Debates, “Should We Legislate to Permit Assisted Dying?’, for which the pre-event Press Release is here and a report of the debate here.  In addition, British Religion in Numbers (BRIN) discusses the findings of the YouGov/University of Lancaster Survey undertaken earlier this year, here.

Forced marriage

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill published on 9 May includes new measures to prevent forced marriage. The principal operative provision is as follows:

“104(1) A person commits an offence if he or she—

(a) uses violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of
causing another person to enter into a marriage, and

(b) believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent.

(2) A person commits an offence if he or she—

(a) practices any form of deception with the intention of causing another 
person to leave the United Kingdom, and

(b) intends the other person to be subjected to conduct outside the United 
Kingdom that is an offence under subsection (1) or would be an offence 
under that subsection if the victim were in England or Wales.

(3) ‘Marriage’ means any religious or civil ceremony of marriage (whether or not legally binding)”.

President of the Methodist Conference v Preston

The Supreme Court judgment in President of the Methodist Conference v Preston will be handed down next Wednesday, 15 May, at 9.45 am. Needless to say, we will be reporting on the outcome.

Preston Down Trust: further stay of proceedings

We have reported previously that the Charity Commission had agreed to the request of the Preston Down Trust for a stay of the legal proceedings before the First Tier Tribunal (Charity) and that a stay had been granted by the Tribunal.  Third Sector Online now reports that after a further request by the Trust to the Tribunal on 1 May proceedings have been put on hold for a further four months until 1 September. A spokeswoman for the Commission is quoted as saying that “confidential without-prejudice discussions” were continuing between the Trust and the Commission, while the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church said that discussions with the Commission had been constructive and that it was now expected that the dialogue will reach a conclusion by the end of August.

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was carried over from the previous Session of Parliament to the current one. It was announced at Thursday’s Business Statement that report stage and third reading in the Commons will be on 20 and 21 May 2013. Further information on the Bill page. A list of the notices of amendments given up to and including 9 May is given here, of which the issues relating to the legal definition of “marriage” raised by New Clause 9 will be of particular interest.

Richard O’Sullivan Memorial Lecture

On Thursday 9 May, the Rt. Hon. Lord Mackay of Clashfern, one of the UK’s longest-serving Lord Chancellors, (1987-1997), delivered the Richard O’Sullivan Memorial Lecture “Does Establishment have a future” in the Parliament Room, Middle Temple.  The event marked part of the Law and Justice: Christian Law Review 50th Anniversary Celebrations, and was sponsored by the Edmund Plowden Trust and Theos, the public theology think-tank.  We will post on Lord Mackay’s lecture when the text becomes available.

The event was preceded by Choral Evensong at the Temple Church, at which the members of the Edmund Plowden Trust joined the three congregations of the Temple Church, St Dunstan’s in the West and St Bride’s Fleet Street for the Ascension Day service: Introit, Alleluia, Ascendit Deus (Thalben-Ball); Canticles in D, (Dyson): Preces and Responses, (Radcliffe); Motet, God is Gone Up, (Finzi).  Alluding to Bideford, Keith Porteous Wood of the NSS has observed that the attendance at Evensong was “optional”.

Bishops in the Lords – in support of Frank Field?

Well, almost, which would be a first, given some of his now-defunct Private Members’ Bills of the 2012-13 Session. In an “exclusive” in The Independent, he calls for most of the 25 [sic] bishops who sit in the House of Lords to lose their seats because they play “gesture politics” but rarely turn up to vote.  Some might argue that introducing Private Members Bills when there is little prospect of parliamentary time for their consideration is another form of “gesture politics”, but that is not the argument.

From the Church’s point of view, neither would this be a mere “tweak in the line-up of our clerical lawmakers”, as the Independent’s leader described it. Frank Field is correct in his assertion that “[i]t is about time the Church became serious about politics.” As we concluded in August following the announcement that the Bill to reform the House of Lords had been dropped,

“Some commentators have suggested that the Lords Spiritual would be more effective if their selection were to take account of the ‘individual personality, experience, expertise and priorities of the individuals within the available pool of bishops’. Perhaps instead of proclaiming Bishops safe, as Clegg drops Lords’ Bill’, the headline in the Church Times should have read ‘Bishops miss opportunity to reorganize strategically’. The direction given by the new Archbishop(s) will be followed with interest”.

Bishops in the Lords – the Dawkins solution?

Richard Dawkins has tweeted a plea to “Replace bishops in Lords by representatives elected by Royal Society, British Academy, Roy Coll Physicians, RA etc – and has received something of a kicking from Andrew Brown in The Guardian, who accuses him of wanting

“.. to revive … the Victorian establishment, with the theological polarity reversed. “Yes. Some Christians do good. So what? Does that make their supernatural beliefs true? Let’s get our priorities right”, he tweeted. Correct beliefs again become more important than correct behaviour. That philosophers or members of the British Academy may suppose one another entirely mistaken about almost everything does not seem to worry him. They are after all the right sort”.

Whether or not Andrew Brown is correct in his analysis, the whole proposal seems vaguely redolent of the composition of the second chamber under the Irish Constitution. Seanad Éireann is composed of 60 senators, as follows:

  • 43 elected by five panels representing Culture and Education, Agriculture, Labour, Industry and Commerce, and Public Administration;
  • three elected by graduates of the National University of Ireland and three elected by graduates of University of Dublin (Trinity College); and
  • eleven nominated by the Taoiseach.

The electorate for the panels is made up of the members of the incoming Dáil and of the outgoing Seanad and members of county and county borough councils, which means that one of Frank’s acquaintances gets two votes in Senate elections –  one as a graduate of NUI and the other as a graduate of TCD – while the vast majority of his compatriots don’t get to vote in Senate elections at all.

All of which sounds a very interesting precedent for what Richard Dawkins might have in mind – except that the Irish value the present arrangement so much that they are thinking very seriously indeed about abolishing it altogether. The Irish Times reports that a Bill to trigger the necessary constitutional referendum to abolish Seanad Éireann will come before Cabinet in the next few weeks – and the only political party that currently supports its retention is Fianna Fáil. That said, however, assuming that the Bill becomes law, the electorate might still not vote for the necessary constitutional amendment.

Christ Church Cathedral bells quietened

From a household (dp’s) where Steve Coleman’s “Method Ringers Companion” series of books is kept between those on canon law and others on environmental law, it is not often that sympathy is extended towards those who raise objections to the sound of church bells.  However, the recent example of those at Christ Church, Dublin – one of the two Anglican Cathedrals in the city [1] – is an exception.  The BBC’s story “Christ Church bells muffled after complaints from locals” indicates that whilst only two people have raised objections, the source of the complaint is the Cathedral’s money-making wheeze of running tours where the guides allow tourists to ring the bells for about four minutes at a time. The tours run every day through the summer – in the morning, at lunch time and in the afternoon. For adults, the Cathedral is charging €4 for the belfry tour in addition to the €6 entrance fee.

These are said to be first complaints about the bells in more than three centuries – the BBC notes that in 1688, the Lord Mayor of Dublin put the cathedral’s officers in the stocks after complaining that the bells did not ring cheerily enough for the birth of the Prince of Wales. However, as a result of these recent complaints, leather sound mufflers have been fitted although they are taken off twice a week for normal bell ringing on Sundays and a weekly practice on Friday evenings.  Dublin City Council has indicated that it will undertake noise monitoring “[to] gain a clear profile of the nature and level of noise when the bells are operational during these tours.”

In line with our attempts to be even-handed, here’s some “sound” advice to the parties concerned:

  • The N 81 at Christchurch Place is a very busy (and noisy) road, and the siting of any sound monitoring equipment and the timing of the testing will affect the outcome;
  • As well as being troublesome to the ringers, the placing and removing of muffles can be a hazardous operation, and if they haven’t done so, the Cathedral authorities should ensure that an adequate risk assessment has been undertaken; and
  • In most towers, bell ringing practice commences with a session for beginners and both sides should consider the degree of nuisance that this creates.

One waits 13 days for a Pope …

… and then three come along (almost) together.  On 2 May, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI returned to his new accommodation in the Vatican, the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, and on 10 May Pope Francis I welcomed the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, Pope Tawadros II. The Washington Post observes that “Tawadros’ presence inside the Apostolic Palace meant there were actually three popes inside the Vatican on Friday”.


[1] Dublin has two Anglican Cathedrals, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (generally known as Christ Church) and St Patrick’s Cathedral. There no Roman Catholic Cathedral as the Church does not acknowledge the post-Reformation Anglican ownership of Christ Church.

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