Religion and law round up – 18th August

What we expected to be a quiet week in August proved not so quiet after all

Abortion law in Ireland

We noted the provisions of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, which was signed into law by the President on 30 July and will be commenced by order. In brief, the Act will allow termination to be carried out where there is a threat to the life of the mother or where there is a medical consensus that the expectant mother will take her own life as a result of her pregnancy. But that is unlikely to be the end of the story, since there appears to be some controversy as to whether or not the terms of the Act are fully in accordance with the Constitution.

Inevitably, opinions as to the wider implications of the Act are bitterly divided. The brief on the original Bill submitted by the Irish Catholic Bishops’  Conference argued that its effect would be fundamentally to alter the culture and practice of medical care in Ireland, to accept the premise that abortion was an appropriate response to a threat of suicide and to create “serious moral, legal and constitutional conflicts in the area of freedom of conscience and religious belief”. Doctors for Choice, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the National Women’s Council of Ireland, on the other hand, continue to have concerns about the legislation, not least that abortion remains a criminal offence except in the limited circumstances specified in the Act, with the “chilling effect” that this has on both women and their doctors.

Caste discrimination

In our 14 July round-up, we reported that the Government appeared to pulling back from its agreement to include casts discrimination as a protected characteristic within the Equality Act 2010.  The Times of India puts it like this,

“[d]espite outlawing social evils such as child marriage and Sati, the British balked at taking on untouchability during the Raj. Three months ago, in a quirky turn of events, the David Cameron government was forced by the House of Lords to outlaw caste-based discrimination among Indians settled in the UK. Last fortnight, yielding to counter pressure from Hindu groups, the government deferred the enforcement of the law by announcing a two-year-long public consultation for it”.

Fracking, mineral rights and muddle

The past week saw a certain amount of confusion on the subject of fracking (aka hydraulic fragmentation). The Diocese of Blackburn had published a leaflet suggesting that for Christians, fracking presents “a choice between economic gain and a healthy environment” and, as a result, came in for a degree of criticism in the Daily Telegraph on 14 August. At about the same time the Church of England published a note about its Mineral Registration Programme explaining that it was registering its existing interests “… to protect existing rights and interests made vulnerable by the change in the law. There are no particular plans to mine under any property. The focus is registration and protection”.

On Friday on Friday the Church issued two statements: a Clarification on suggested links with hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” and a Statement from Church of England on fracking. Our latest summary of developments is here.

Persecuted Christians

In April we commented on a piece by Lord Carey of Clifton in the Daily Mail about Christians feeling that they were a “persecuted minority”. Now comes a rather different and, dare one say it, far less sensationalist view from his successor. Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Rowan Williams pointed out that being made to feel mildly uncomfortable hardly amounted to “persecution”:

“I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or, rather, believers. I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. We’re made to feel as if we’re idiots – perish the thought! But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up.

You have to earn respect if you want to be taken seriously in society. But don’t confuse it with the systematic brutality and often murderous hostility which means that every morning you get up wondering if you and your children are going to make it through the day. That is different, it’s real. It’s not quite what we’re facing in Western society.”

No further comment necessary.

Religion and private law seminar

Máiréad Enright has sent us details of the latest seminar in the ESCR Public Life of Private Law series, on religion and private law, to be held at the University of Kent (Keynes College Room KS14) on Thursday 19 September :

“Private law is associated with the possibility of individual and group self-regulation. It allows citizens to depart from and supplement public norms. Our focus in this seminar will be on the developing religious use of private law to depart from the norms of state family law. Should we be troubled by ‘privatized diversity’  and the spectre of ‘law without a state’?  Does the emancipatory adage ‘from status to contract’ entirely capture the use of private law by minority groups to defend and sustain territory apart from the state? Does the channelling of religious disputes through private law depoliticize and marginalise them?”

Confirmed speakers include: Emmanuel Melissaris, Emmanuel Voyakis, Samia Bano, Aileen McColgan, Daniel Monk, Aina Khan and Christine Schwoebel. To register your interest in attending please e-mail, indicating any dietary or access requirements. Further details of the series, including recordings of the first two seminars, are available at

Recent consistory court judgments

Re St Peter Dunchurch [2013] Coventry Cons Ct (Stephen Eyre Ch)

Regrettably, it is not uncommon for errors to occur in the case of reserved burial plots.  In this case, the burial of an unrelated person in a reserved plot adjacent to the interment of a widow’s late husband precluded her eventual burial alongside him. Subject to an assessment of practicability of conducting a seemly exhumation, a faculty was granted for his correctly-buried body to be reinterred elsewhere in the cemetery and for the reservation of an adjacent burial plot for the widow.

Re St Bartholomew Binley [2013] Coventry Cons Ct (Stephen Eyre Ch)

St. Bartholomew is a Grade I listed Georgian church was built in the early 1770’s as the estate church for Coombe Abbey. A petition was granted for the installation of a projector, fixed in a box under the balcony, and a screen to be housed in a box across the sanctuary arch. The latter proved the more problematic, particularly to the Georgian Group, but the chancellor agreed with the Diocesan Advisory Committee and the pragmatic approach of English Heritage that the proposed changes would not harm the character of the church.

Richard III: the saga rumbles on

On Thursday Haddon-Cave J handed down an unusually long judgment in the preliminary hearing in Plantagenet Alliance Ltd, R (o a o) v Secretary of State for Justice & Anor [2013] EWCA (Admin) (15 August). Quite contrary to our prediction, he granted the Plantagenet Alliance permission to bring judicial review proceedings against the Secretary of State for Justice and the University of Leicester in relation to the intended reburial of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral.

In his concluding comments, the judge urged the parties to avoid embarking on the (legal) Wars of the Roses Part 2, and strongly recommended that the fundamental question as to where and how Richard III is reburied should be referred “to an independent advisory panel made up of suitable experts and Privy Councillors, who can consult and receive representations from all interested parties and make suitable recommendations with reasonable speed.”  Nevertheless, Leicester Council and Leicester University were quick off the mark in issuing statements on the judgement, here, and here.

The substantive hearing of these proceedings is expected to take one day and is set down for next term. Haddon-Cave J has ordered skeletons to be exchanged one week beforehand. How this  will turn out is anyone’s guess but, given our recent track-record, we aren’t guessing.  We will however, post an analysis of Thursday’s judgment.

Over at the St John’s Center for Law & Religion Forum  Perry Dane, of Rutgers Law School, is currently posting a very interesting two-parter on the intended reburial. Part one is here; part two is presumably on its way.

Ecce pecuniam

When we reviewed the attempts of 81-year-old Cecilia Giménez to restore the Ecce Homo fresco by Elijah García Martínez in the Sanctuary of Mercy church in Zaragoza, we noted that whilst Specsavers missed the opportunity to include the “restoration” in their advertising campaign, others had begun to capitalize on its notoriety.  In the first four days, the church realized €2,000 from entry fees, and now one year on, the fresco has drawn more than 40,000 and raised in excess of €50,000 for a local charity in the town of Borja.  The Guardian reports that Giménez and a local council are to sign a deal to share profits from merchandise featuring the image.

Although any suggestion of causality would be misplaced, we can report that the Mona Lisa, (a.k.a. Lisa Gherardini) is probably spinning in her grave, though not at the possibility of a similar disfigurement since La Gioconda is safely behind bullet-proof glass.  However, in yet another tomb opening/DNA examination exercise, it is reported that scientists have opened a tomb in Firenze with a view of extracting DNA in an attempt to identify the model for da Vinci’s famous painting.

And finally, one for the silly season

The BBC reports that a child support magistrate in the US has ordered that a baby’s first name be changed from “Messiah” to “Martin” on the grounds, she asserted, that the only true messiah is Jesus. The parents of seven-month old Messiah DeShawn Martin had gone to court in Tennessee because they could not agree on his surname. The magistrate, Lu Ann Ballew, ordered that the child’s first name should be changed as well because “The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ”. So the baby is now Martin DeShawn McCullough, which gives him both his parents’ last names.

Er, First Amendment, anyone? Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech… According to Religion Clause the child’s mother is appealing the magistrate’s decision to the Tennessee Chancery Court and a hearing is scheduled for 17 September. Which is no great surprise: if the decision doesn’t fail on the establishment limb of the First Amendment it probably violates the free speech limb.

(Incidentally re titles, “earl” is also a title – but that did not seem to bother Earl Warren CJ of the US Supreme Court.)