Religion and law round up – 25th August

A relatively uneventful week . . . .

… but not for 19-year-old engineering student Stefano Cabizza, of Padova, who received a “cold-call” from Pope Francis who was following up a personal letter from Cabizza which was handed to a cardinal at a papal Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption. For the benefit of its readers, the National Catholic Reporter has produced advice on telephone etiquette should any of them receive a similar call. Although non-Italian speakers in the UK may not be concerned with the subtleties of the use of tu rather than lei to address the Pontiff, Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith of the Catholic Herald writes “With the use of one word, Pope Francis is signalling to the Vatican insiders that their day is over”.

Conscientious objection to participation in abortion

Readers may recall the case of Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, the labour ward coordinators at the Glasgow Southern General Hospital who sought to assert their conscientious objection to supervising staff involved in abortions: we blogged about it here. They lost in the Outer House but, on reclaimer, won  in the Inner House: Doogan & Anor v NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board [2013] ScotCS CSIH 36

We now learn that the Health Board is in the process of appealing the Inner House’s decision to the Supreme Court. Apparently the Board announced its intention to appeal in June (but we missed it at the time) and on 25 June the BBC posted a report to that effect; however, the case does not yet appear on the Supreme Court’s permission to appeal applications list. Presumably the application for leave will be decided at the beginning of the new legal year: we shall be watching out for it.

Burqas and niqabs in court

A 21-year-old Muslim woman from Hackney charged with intimidating a witness appeared in Blackfriars Crown Court wearing a burqa. When she refused to remove her veil on grounds of her religion, HHJ Peter Murphy told her that she could not stand trial in a veil which only revealed her eyes because her identity could not be confirmed. The Daily Telegraph reported him as saying that it was necessary for the court to be satisfied that it could recognise the defendant:

“While I obviously respect her right to dress in any way she wishes, certainly while outside the court, the interests of justice are paramount. I can’t, as a circuit judge, accept a plea from a person whose identity I am unable to ascertain. It would be easy for someone on a later occasion to appear and claim to be the defendant.The court would have no way to check on that.”

The woman’s counsel, Claire Burtwistle, suggested that she herself and a female police officer could identify the defendant and confirm to the court that she was the same person as in the police arrest photos, while Sarah Counsell, for the Crown, added that the police officer in charge of the case was content that he recognised the defendant even though she was wearing her burqa. Nevertheless, HHJ Murphy rejected counsel’s suggestion, observing that “the principle of open justice” could not be subject to the religion of the defendant. He adjourned the case for argument as to whether or not the defendant should have to remove her veil. The case will be resumed on September 12.

Safeguarding in the Church of England

Our review in March of the Church’s safeguarding provisions in Jersey concluded:

“… the general recommendations within the [Korris] report have wide application throughout the Church of England and beyond. Although there are legal issues arising from the relationship between Jersey and the United Kingdom, the main issue remains the Independent Report and the subsequent investigation.”

With regard to the former, there have been a number of developments in the Church of England which are summarized on its web page Child Protection and Safeguarding, including:  the final report of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Chichester Visitation, here, here, and here; a Statement on Safeguarding from the House of Bishops; a debate on safeguarding in General Synod and speeches by Bishop Paul Butler and Archbishop Justin, here and here respectively, and the establishment of an Independent Inquiry into the Church’s handling of reports of alleged sexual abuse by the late Robert Waddington, formerly Dean of Manchester.

On Jersey, early action was taken by Tim Dakin, Bishop of Winchester in setting up an independently-led Visitation into safeguarding procedures in the Deanery of Jersey, (26 March) and the appointment of Dame Heather Steel DBE to lead a separate Investigation into church safeguarding complaints from 2008 (15 May).  However, the involvement of the diocese has met with continuing opposition from the Islanders, here, the latest of which is from “a group of concerned [but unnamed] members of the laity of the Anglican Church”, here and here, who appear to have adopted the basic thesis of noli nos tangere. 

Recent consistory court judgment

The facts of Re St Thomas Kilnhurst [2013] Sheffield Cons Ct (David McClean Ch) were summarised concisely earlier this year by Catherine Shelley, (2013) 15 Ecc Law Soc, 120. The full judgment runs to ten pages and is now available via the above link. Paragraphs 8 to 21 contain a detailed account of the arcane law concerning churchyards and, in particular, monuments erected in churchyards. Incumbents would do well to read these, for as the chancellor notes

 “[it] is not well understood even by the clergy and the parish officers who have to deal with it. Its actual content some find surprising, and certainly the parties to the present dispute sometimes made assumptions as to the content of the law which were mistaken.”

The case concerned the two headstones which have stood in the churchyard of the parish church of St Thomas, Kilnhurst, over the grave of Frederick Howitt who died on 11 May 1946. The judgment was made against the background of a long-standing family feud, “with allegations and counter-allegations of assault, theft, criminal damage, and the sending of hate-mail”, and a “wholly lamentable record of neglect and inaction by the diocese and some of its office-holders which came close to denying justice to Mr [John] Howitt and which added to the length and cost of [the] proceedings”. (It’s amazing how death and burial seems to bring out all the worst instincts in people.)

A faculty was issued to allow removal of the “second” headstone placed on the grave in 2002 and its replacement with a replica of the original.

Ding, Dong, the King is dead

The timing of Leicester Cathedral’s plans for Richard III may have been set back by the recent decision for a judicial review, but this did not prevent the “Family Fun Fest” on 22nd August to commemorate his death at the Battle of Bosworth, ending with an “Excellent Evensong” sung by the choir of St Barnabas, Nottingham’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. (Would they have advertised a “Totally Crap Evensong”?)

And finally…

BuzzFeed Politics has published a geographical distribution, by religious affiliation, of members of the US House of Representatives. Though the US is normally well outside our sphere of interest, trying to make some sense of the figures helped liven up a wet and uneventful afternoon in mid-August.

The maps themselves only make any sense if you can recognise the unlabelled state outlines (and Frank hasn’t the foggiest idea which state is which except for the ones any fool can recognise, like Alaska, California, Florida and Hawaii); but the basic breakdown in list form is interesting in itself: 136 are Roman Catholics (31% of the House), 66 Baptists (15%), 45 Methodists (10%), 35 Episcopalians (8%), 28 Presbyterians (6%), 22 Jews (5%) and 19 Lutherans (4%). There is a single atheist.

One would expect there to be more Roman Catholics in the House than any other group; but some denominations seem to be over- or under-represented. The widely-respected Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project estimates that 23.9% of Americans are Roman Catholics, 12% are Baptists of various kinds, 6% Methodists, 4.6% Lutheran, 2.7% Presbyterian, 1.7% Jewish and only 1.4%  Anglican. On that basis (and given that there are bound to be distortions across a group as small as 435) there are rather more Roman Catholics than one would expect, twice as many Presbyterians, about the right proportion of Baptists, rather fewer Methodists and Lutherans – and about five times the expected number of Anglicans.

So why are the Episcopalians so massively over-represented? Social class/personal wealth, given that national politics in the US tends to be a rich person’s sport? Education? Social awareness? And why are 21 of the 35 Piskies Republicans? Given that the views of the majority of the Anglican Communion about the Episcopal Church seem to range from “theological liberals” to “a bunch of heretics”, one would have expected Democrats to predominate. (It should surprise no-one that the single Unitarian Representative and the single Quaker are both Democrats, though it should also be remembered that the last American Quaker politician that anyone has heard of was the appalling Richard Milhous Nixon.)

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6 thoughts on “Religion and law round up – 25th August

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  1. Many thanks for the link to the judgment in the Re St Thomas Kilnhurst [2013] Sheffield Cons Court case. I’ve often wondered who ‘owns’ a headstone and who has the right to decide the inscription, especially when the relatives are at odds. It is regrettable that the Diocesan authorities in this case were so unhelpful to the incumbents and to the petitioner.

    • Thank you for your feedback. Mark Hill’s Ecclesiastical Law addresses the issue of the ownership of headstones (at 7.96) and their erection (at 7.115), from the point of view of their “first generation” owners, but we thought that it would be useful to highlight the summary in Re St Thomas Kilnhurst in relation to the heir-at-law.

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