Religion and law round up – 21st July

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill received Royal Assent on 17 July. At the time of posting the Act copy had not yet been published on

And apart from that…

Abortion law in Ireland

We noted that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 passed Dáil Éireann by 127 votes to 31. The Bill would make it lawful to carry out a termination of pregnancy in circumstances where there is “a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman’s life from a physical illness” or where “there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman’s life by way of suicide”. What the Bill does not do is to address the ECtHR’s judgment in A, B and C v Ireland [2010] ECHR 2032 on the provision of abortion in the case of a risk to the life of the pregnant woman, nor does it legalise termination of a pregnancy arising as a result of rape.

Bed & Breakfast and same-sex couples

In Black & Anor v Wilkinson [2013] EWCA Civ 820 the Court of Appeal held unanimously that, by refusing them a double room in her house, which she ran as a B &B , Mrs Wilkinson had discriminated against Mr Black and Mr Morgan contrary to the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.

No great surprise: but Mrs Wilkinson has been granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, where her case is almost certain to be conjoined with the appeal in the other B & B case: Bull & Bull v Hall & Preddy [2012] EWCA Civ 83.

Is Scientology a religion?

That is the question that the Supreme Court was considering on Thursday. The Guardian carried an informative and rather amusing report of the oral hearing in the appeal from R (Hodkin) & Anor v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2012] EWHC 3635 (Admin).

As readers of this blog will know, the Registrar-General declined to license the Scientologists’ chapel under s 2 of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 and, consequently, authorise it for solemnising marriages; and when that was challenged by Ms Hodkin and her fiancé, Ouseley J decided that he could not overturn the Registrar General’s refusal because he was bound by a decision of the Court of Appeal about the nature of Scientology in R v Registrar General ex parte Segerdal [1970] 2 QB 697. But, argues Ms Hodkin, if Buddhism (which does not have any concept of a Supreme Being) is a “religion” for the purposes of the Act, why isn’t Scientology?

The SC has reserved judgment. Watch this space…

Poland and ritual slaughter

In 2012 the Polish Constitutional Court struck down the saving for ritual slaughter for religious reasons on the grounds that it improperly overrode the 1997 animal welfare laws. The result was that all slaughter without pre-stunning was banned in Poland from 1 January 2013. The move was the result of pressure from animal welfare groups concerned about a massive increase in ritual slaughter from 2010 to provide meat for export to Muslim countries, largely as a result of Turkey opening its doors to beef imports from the EU after a 14-year ban. Unsurprisingly, however, Poland’s small Jewish community saw this is as an indefensible attack on their freedom to practise their religion.

The Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, introduced legislation to reverse the decision of the Constitutional Court but on 12 July, by 222 votes to 178 with nine abstentions, Parliament threw out the Bill that would have reinstated the practice. According to media reports, during a meeting last Thursday in Brussels the Polish Ambassador to the EU, Marek Prawda, told the Director General of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, that  Mr Tusk had agreed establish a special committee to find a solution to the problem. The committee will be headed by the Minister of Administration and Digitization, Michał Jan Boni, whose portfolio also includes religious matters.

Religious circumcision more-or-less revisited

We noted SS (Malaysia) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2013] EWCA Civ 888: the unanimous rejection of an asylum application from a Malaysian Roman Catholic. One of her concerns was that if she and her six-year-old son were returned to Malaysia her husband, who had converted to Islam, would have the boy circumcised against her wishes.

Possibly the most interesting feature of the judgment was that it did not appear to look at the issue from the point of view of “the best interests of the child”, nor did it consider the need for the consent of both parents to the procedure (for which see Re J (Child’s Religious Upbringing and Circumcision) [2000] 1 Fam (CA) 307, especially Butler-Sloss P at para 32), but began from the assumption that, though “not commanding universal approval”, the procedure was “regarded as an acceptable practice among communities of all kinds” and that circumcising the boy would not interfere with his mother’s Convention rights. In a trenchant post on the UK Human Rights Blog, Rosalind English argued that the Court of Appeal had simply chosen to duck the issue.

So-called “three-person IVF” and the law

What the media has dubbed “three-person IVF”, in which  the nuclear genetic material of the two intended parents is re-housed along with healthy mitochondria from a donated egg,  was raised during a recent Westminster Hall debate on the application of the technique to combating mitochondrial disease. A subsequent Department of Health Press Release said that a public consultation “was expected” on the associated draft regulations.

The whole issue has been sensationalized in the media and that has introduced a degree of confusion into the discussion, not least from the use of the “three-parent” descriptor. David has tried to set the record straight, here. The government response to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s recommendations, following a recent consultation, is being led by the Chief Medical Officer, who is expected to set out its response soon.

Same-sex couple “not welcome” to worship in Exeter?

In a question to the Second Church Estates Commissioner,  Ben Bradshaw (Exeter, Labour) stated

“[he] recently came across a case of a Christian couple in a same-sex relationship and with children in the local Church primary school to whom it was made clear by the local conservative evangelical church that they would not be welcome to worship in it”

In response, the director of education for the Diocese of Exeter issued the following statement:

“All our church schools work to serve the needs of all children and families in their communities and we recognize that families are very varied and we want all children to feel comfortable and flourish. We fully support and uphold the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent statement on church schools addressing homophobia.

We have contacted Ben Bradshaw’s office to ask for details of the case to which he referred but have yet to hear back.”

The sanction of withholding Holy Communion is addressed in Canon B 16 Of notorious offenders not to be admitted to Holy Communion; but  the minister to must first bring this to the attention of the bishop and is then required to follow the bishop’s directions.

Cathedral charges

It is estimated that each year about 15 million visits are made to churches and cathedrals which are regarded as “major tourist attractions”, and in a written answer on the cost to visitors of accessing religious buildings, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, told the House of Commons that of the current 42 Dioceses in England (i.e. excluding Sodor and Man and Europe) only nine cathedrals charge an entry fee. He made the important point that, unlike the national museums, none of the Church of England’s cathedral or church buildings receive grant-in-aid from government.

As of June 2013, the English Cathedrals and Royal Peculiars that currently chargeIMG_0295(3) for entry are: Canterbury,  Coventry,  Ely, Exeter,  Lincoln, Christ Church, Oxford (to enter college),  St George’s Chapel, Windsor (to enter castle),  St Paul’s,  Westminster Abbey, Winchester and York Minster.  However, all cathedrals which charge for entry give free access to those attending services, to those who arrive on pilgrimage or wish to pray, some give free entry on Sundays and at other times, generally early in the morning or late in the afternoon, and others give free entry to local residents or church attenders in their dioceses.

An estimated 35-50 million visits are made to churches and cathedrals each year (excluding regular worshippers). Only two of the great parish churches charge entry fees or a modest charge to enter part of the church: St Bartholomew the Great in London Diocese and Holy Trinity, Stratford upon Avon, in Coventry Diocese: the resting-place of William Shakespeare.

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