Religion and law round up – 1st September

A mixed bag, including an important ruling from Northern Ireland

GirlGuiding Promise

Back in June we noted that GirlGuiding UK had announced the wording of the new Promise to be made by its members, effective from 1 September: “I promise that I will do my best: To be true to myself and develop my beliefs, To serve the Queen and my community, To help other people and To keep the (Brownie) Guide law” – dropping the reference to God and causing considerable upset thereby.

Hazel Mitford, leader of the troop based St Paul’s URC, Harrogate, wrote to a local newspaper along with Brownie representatives pledging to stick to the old Christian oath. The Daily Mail reports, however, that after meeting national leaders the St Paul’s troop has now agreed to accept the new wording. The Chief Guide, Gill Slocombe, said:

“We always want to support our leaders and we spent some time talking with the Harrogate volunteers about the new promise and supporting them to understand it is intended to embrace all girls, those with a faith belief and those without. As a result they decided they would be able to start using it as planned from September 1”

– but added that she would not instruct members of the troop whether to follow the old or new oath and that “It’s for the girls to decide what they choose to do”. (For a predictably foaming-at-the-mouth reaction, see Melanie Phillips’s comment piece in the Mail.)

Turkey’s secret religious identity codes

When a couple in Istanbul tried to register their child at a local Armenian school they were asked by officials to prove that they had a “2″ code. The incident led to the Ministry of the Interior finally admitting that it categorised religious minorities by secret numeric codes: “1″ for Greek Orthodox Christians, “2″ for Armenian Apostolic Christians, “3″ for Jews and so on. The Ministry supplies the codes to school officials so that Armenian children can attend Armenian schools. The Ministry said that the information about religious identity is derived from Ottoman records and is used to help religious minorities exercise their rights under the Treaty of Lausanne 1923; however, officials claim that the state no longer collects information about religious or racial identity.

All very strange and, one might have thought, not entirely consonant with Article 8 ECHR (private and family life). And if the state is still relying on data from the Ottoman Empire, what’s the code for someone who has an ethnically-Jewish mother who converted to Orthodox Christianity before marriage? For the full story, see Mark L Movsesian: Turkey Admits Having Secret Identity Codes for Religious Minorities.

New on-line forum on faith and public policy

Bristol University’s Centre for Ethnicity has launched what looks like an extremely interesting on-line faith and public policy forum, Public Spirit. The forum is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the project is led by Dr Therese O’Toole working with Dr Stephen Jones and the Centre’s Director, Professor Tariq Modood.

Public Spirit is currently hosting two themed debates: the first addresses the question, are Muslims effective participants in governance or are they victims of policies over which they have little say? The second asks what are the implications of the Coalition government’s emphasis on Christianity for a multi-faith society? Planned future contributions include the how and who of questions of religious representation, the implications of ‘muscular liberalism’ for faith and integration, the role of faith groups and values in social action, and finding the right balance between promoting equality and recognising religious difference.

You can subscribe to the Public Spirit mailing list here or by e-mailing subscribe@publicspirit.org.uk.

Judge permits limited use of blood products in Jehovah’s Witness case

In S, Re [2013] NIFam 8 (15 August 2013), Sir Declan Morgan, Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice, ruled that under quite specific conditions specific, blood products could be used during the extensive dental surgery planned for a 26-year-old man with severe learning disabilities. The proposed dental treatment plan was assessed as being is in S’s best interests and his mother and treating physicians were in agreement in this respect. However, the treating physicians indicated that they would require the availability of blood products for use in the event of severe bleeding to safeguard S’s life, and based upon her religious views, S’s mother objected to their use.

Having determined that S lacked capacity, [paras 4 & 5], the judge considered the role of the court in these circumstances, [para 6], and the elements of the ECHR that came into play: Articles 2 (preservation of life) Article 3 (inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 8 (private and family life). A report from the Official Solicitor demonstrated that S enjoys a close and loving relationship with his mother and with his extended family.

Applying the tests set out by the European Court in Herczgfalvy v Austria [1993] 15 EHRR 432 that a measure which is a therapeutic necessity cannot be regarded as inhuman or degrading and that where medical necessity has been convincingly shown to exist it is likely to be in the best interests of the patient, Morgan LCJ concluded that

“… because of the risk to the life of S in the very limited circumstances in which blood products could be used in this case that I should make a declaration to permit that to happen. I want to make it clear that the declaration only permits the use of blood products in circumstances where it is necessary and that has been put to the court on the basis that it is necessary to ensure that S’s life is preserved. So those are the only circumstances in which blood products may be used on foot of this order.

Lobbying Bill update

On Thursday we reported on aspects within the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill  which could potential affect churches, charities and similar groups, primarily in relation to its Part 2 provisions on “Non-Party Campaigning etc”.  However, aspects of Part 1, “Registration of Consultant Lobbyists” will also be of concern to some organisations within the sector, although the current proposals do not appear to be as far reaching as of those that have been introduced by the European Commission and Parliament, here. The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee has not been enamoured with the conduct or the content of the Bill and on 18 July 2013 issued the report Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists: Government Response to the Committee’s Second Report of Session 2012–13 which concluded:

9. It is utterly unacceptable that the Government took more than a year to respond to our report on Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and that when it finally responded it did so in the form of a letter of a page and a half that does not engage with any of the detailed points made in the report. We consider that this shows a lack of respect for Parliament and for the many people who contributed to our inquiry. We urge the Government to provide us with a revised response that addresses our original report.

10. We are further dissatisfied that we have been denied the opportunity to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny on a draft Bill on lobbying. As recently as February 2013, the Deputy Prime Minister referred to his intention to publish a Bill in draft. We are unclear what has changed since then and why the timetable has suddenly become so tight … There should always be a good reason for dispensing with pre-legislative scrutiny. In the case of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill there is no good reason.

The Chair of the Committee, Graham Allen, (Lab, Nottingham North), arranged a special evidence session during the recess at which leading practitioners within the UK lobbying industry were invited to give evidence on six issues identified by the Committee.  These were directed at “Part 1” of the Bill and the definition of “consultant lobbyists” in clause 2, although some took the opportunity to address other aspects of the Bill.  A link to the written evidence presented at the Thursday session is available here and PR Week has provided a review of the oral evidence, here.  This notes that Graham Allen has promised to send the committee’s report to every MP by the evening of 4 September or the following morning.

A further session is scheduled for 3 September at Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission and the Rt hon Andrew Lansley MP, Leader of the House, will give evidence.

Canon lawyer appointed as Vatican Secretary of State

In the first major appointment of his papacy, Pope Francis nominated Archbishop Pietro Parolin, presently Apostolic Nuncio to Venezuela, as the new Secretary of State. He will replace His Eminence, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, also a canon lawyer, who resigned under the provisions of Canon 354 CIC.  The Vatican notification gives a brief summary of the posts held be Archbishop Parolin, (in Italian), and more detailed information has been provided by Vatican Insider, here. His statement on appointment is here, and a translation of his last interview before appointment here.  He takes possession of his office on 15 October 2013.

This appointment consolidates Pope Francis’ earlier moves to reform the Curia with the establishment of: an advisory board of eight cardinals; a commission to advise on the reform the Vatican bank; and a further commission of external experts to provide advice on economic affairs, improve transparency and enforce accounting principles.  Cardinal Parolin  takes up his new position on 15 October 2013.

Verb. sap.

As a number of fellow-bloggers were still enjoying their digital detox and eschewing use of their phablet to enjoy some me time, this week Oxford Dictionaries Online added a number of srsly buzzworthy words to its dictionary.  For the record, readers are unlikely to catch either of us twerking or posting a selfie, although we have been considering whether this A/W we should add the odd emoji to liven up our posts or if this would cause readers to unlike the blog.  Clearly a balance needs to be set between FOMO and TL:DR

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