In a week during which the Church of England acquired its next Supreme Governor but two…
Religious observance and availability for work
In the round-up for 7 July we reported the case of Slinger v DWP, in which the Social Entitlement Chamber had allowed an appeal by Mr Jacob Slinger, a nineteen-year-old Charedi from Greater Manchester, against a decision of the Department for Work & Pensions to deny him Jobseeker’s Allowance on the grounds that, as an observant Jew, he refused to work on Shabbat. The Washington Post (that’s Washington DC, not Washington UK) reports that the DWP now plans to investigate the situation more generally, presumably to see whether there have been previous cases of religious discrimination of this kind that went unchallenged at the time.
Parental disagreement about religious upbringing
Last week we noted the judgment in SS (Malaysia) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 888 in which the Court of Appeal refused asylum to a Malaysian Roman Catholic woman who feared that if she and their six-year-old son were returned to Malaysia her husband would mistreat her and, despite her objections, compel the child to convert to Islam.
It now appears that the situation might have been more complicated than it appeared from the judgment in SS. Agence France-Presse reported that, pretty well simultaneously with the Court of Appeal’s judgment, a court in the northern city of Ipoh, the capital of Perak state, ruled that the conversion by their father in 2009 of three Hindu children, now aged five, 15 and 16, without their mother’s knowledge had been unconstitutional. Under sharia, which governs civil matters for Muslims in Malaysia, a non-Muslim parent cannot share the custody of converted children – which meant that Mrs Indira Gandhi, a kindergarten teacher in her late 30s, faced losing custody of her children after her husband converted himself and them without her knowledge. The court ruled that the father had failed to take the mother and the children to the Islamic authorities for their consent to the conversion.
Earlier in the month the Malaysian Government withdrew a controversial bill that would have allowed one parent to give consent for a child’s conversion. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin told the media that the Cabinet had decided to withdraw the Administration of the Religion of Islam Bill following concerns from various quarters, including from within the ruling coalition of the Barisan Nasional (National Front) party itself: “The Cabinet has decided to withdraw the child conversion bill until the approval of all stakeholders is received”. Opponents said that the proposals discriminated against minorities despite Government promises to address their grievances.
All of which leaves one wondering whether Ms SS’s fears about her son being forcibly converted should they be returned to Malaysia were entirely well-founded.
The underlying theme of our recent post Painting an accurate picture was the upkeep and maintenance of the Church of England’s 16,200 parish churches and 42 mainland cathedrals. This explored the conflicts between those with direct responsibility for their daily operation, and others promoting broader issues and ensuring that within the public square they continue to be perceived as buildings worth visiting and supporting. This week is the 60th anniversary of the National Churches Trust, (NCT), “an independent, national non-profit making organisation that supports and promotes church buildings of historic, architectural and community value.” Since 2005, it has distributed more than £9 million in grants for restoration and modernisation to over 1,000 churches, covering a range of denominations throughout UK.
As part of its anniversary celebrations, the NCTs revealed some of ‘The UK’s Favourite Churches’, as chosen by 60 top people from the world of politics, entertainment, journalism, academia and church leaders, here. This weekend, David will be introducing the choir of SS Peter and Paul, Wantage to the choice of the Most Revd Barry Cennydd Morgan, the Archbishop of Wales, i.e. the Parish Church of SS Peter and Paul, Dyfrig, Teilo and Euddogwy (a.k.a. Llandaff Cathedral) .
Further scrutiny at the Vatican
On 26 June Pope Francis issued a chirograph  which established a Pontifical Commission charged with gathering “accurate information” on the legal position and various activities of the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR, the Vatican’s financial institution), here. The commission comprises 5 people and its findings will allow for “a better harmonization of the IOR with the universal mission of the Apostolic See.
On 18 July the pontiff issued a further papal decree setting up another Pontifical Commission for Reference “on the study and guidance of the organisation of the economic-administrative structure of the Holy See”, here. This too will gather “accurate information on economic questions regarding the Vatican Administrations and … co-operate with the … Council of Cardinals in its valuable work, offering the technical support of specialist advice and developing strategic solutions for improvement, so as to avoid the misuse of economic resources, to improve transparency in the processes of purchasing goods and services; to refine the administration of goods and real estate; to work with ever greater prudence in the financial sphere; to ensure the correct application of accounting principles; and to guarantee healthcare and social security benefits to those eligible.”
The Royal baby
The birth of the royal baby, who will be known Prince George, means that the monarchy now has three generations of heirs to the throne for the first time since 1894. With the full title His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, he is destined to become George VII or VIII, depending upon the regnal name chosen by Prince Charles, (who could decide to be called George VII). The Archbishop Cranmer blog observes:
“[w]e now have four supreme governors of the Church of England lined up very nicely, to be the guardians of the Church’s authoritative formularies, its polity and its confessional identity of affirmation and restraint. They provide ecclesial continuity, theological identity and doctrinal stability”
– although the assumption that the link between Church and State will be retained over that length of time does appear to be a tad presumptuous.
By way of contrast and perhaps closer to the likely developments, Nick Barber of the Constitutional Law Group has written a draft retrospective post for 2075 in which he reviews possible developments in this period: retention of links with the monarchy and Privy Council by a number of the smaller Realms, some small territories deciding, for economic and foreign policy reasons, to retain the Royal connection; a fractious and diverse UK in which Scotland is planning its 10th vote on independence; a move towards the abdication of the monarch as the norm; a shift to a formal federal structure in the middle part of the century as the important day-to-day decisions are increasingly made by the first ministers of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, without reference to the monarch. He further predicts that the monarch is no longer the head of the Church of England: “a divorce that brought great relief to each party – and no longer has any real political power”.
Back to the present time, and HRH’s Highgrove Shop and Garden was quick off the mark in announcing “[t]o commemorate this wonderful event we have created a unique collection of carefully crafted gifts which are ideal for new parents and babies everywhere.” Profits from the sale of Highgrove products are donated to The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Foundation, a grant-making charity which supports a wide range of causes and projects.
We don’t reckon to use this blog for self-advertisement; but Frank thought it might be pardonable to mention an article, just published, that he co-wrote with Javier García Oliva because it appears in a generalist public law journal rather than in one specialising in law and religion. ‘Education and Religious Symbols in the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain: Uniformity or Subsidiarity?’ (2013) 19 European Public Law Issue 3 pp 555–582 looks at some of the issues around the display of religious symbols in the three countries as part of the broader debate about the place of religion in wider society, the extent to which personal religious preferences should be accommodated and the degree to which liberal democracies may legitimately exhibit an overt religious character.
 A papal decree which is directed at the Roman curia.
Would any serious, reputable historian of English Christianity in general and of the C of E in particular endorse the assertion that the office of Supreme Governor “provide[s] ecclesial continuity, theological identity and doctrinal stability”? Ecclesial identity, perhaps: theological identity, doubtful: but doctrinal stability?? Is the author of the Archbishop Cranmer blog seriously suggesting that the doctrine of the C of E now is the same as it was at the time of Elizabeth I? Or even as it was at the time of Victoria? Surely not.