Religion and law round-up – 15th December

The big news of the week was the SC’s judgment in Hodkin – but possibly as important was the European Parliament’s rejection of a report on sexual and reproductive health and rights

So Scientology is a religion

The news that the Supreme Court had concluded that Scientology was a religion for the purposes of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855  on which which we posted briefly – produced what can only be described as confused reactions, not least from DCLG minister Brandon Lewis and from those who assume that it is inevitable that the Scientologists will be given charitable status.

Almost inevitably, it’s more complicated than that. Just because the UKSC has agreed that Scientology is a religion for the purposes of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 does not mean that the Charity Commission or OSCR will necessarily recognise it as a charity, because there is a two-stage test: first, is it a trust “for the advancement of religion?” and secondly, if it is such a trust, do its activities advance religion “for the public benefit”?

A “yes” to the first does not mean an automatic “yes” to the second; and when the Scientologists applied for registration on a previous occasion in the 1990s the Charity Commission refused registration on the grounds that their activities did not benefit a wide enough section of the public.

Do the courts have morals after all?

Followers of the controversy over Sir James Munby’s speech on Law, Morality and Religion in the Family Courts, on which we have commented previously, may be interested in a post on the website of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, at Cambridge in which David McIlroy points out that judges

“… must recognise the starkly differing views which people hold (whether they are people of faith or of no faith at all) and must afford those views equal respect provided they are worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity”

He suggests that “the death of the enforcement of morality in family law has been greatly exaggerated” and concludes that “Despite the headlines, our courts do still have morals and they know it”.

Non-binding resolutions

In an earlier post we reported on the conflicts resulting from the blatantly biased report on Children’s right to physical integrity of the Rapporteur, Ms Marlene Rupprecht, and the subsequent supporting vote of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Although covering a range of issues, it was religious circumcision that appeared to be the main target.  The vote in the Assembly was non-binding, and although the Secretary General of the Council of Europe was keen to stress that Council of Europe does not want to ban the practice of male circumcision, the vote acted as a catalyst for further action in some of the Nordic countries.

Last week the European Parliament side-stepped the a motion on the controversial Estrela Report on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) by taking a prior vote on an alternative resolution tabled by the EPP, [European People’s Party], and the ECR [European Conservatives and Reformists Group]. This non-binding resolution stated

“[t]he formulation and implementation of policies on sexual and reproductive health and rights and on sex education in schools is a competence of the member states.”

was adopted by 334 votes to 327, with 35 abstentions. As with the CoE report, the Estrela proposal covered a number of issues, although its advocacy of abortion as a right was the focus for objections.

The next potentially contentious resolution in the European Parliament is likely to be a result of the report of the rapporteur of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Ulrike Lunacek on the EU Roadmap against homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, (2013/2183(INI)).  Watch this space.

Court Rules

As the Home Secretary was to learn in the case of the deportation of Omar Mahmoud Othman, a.k.a. Abu Qatada, the European Court of Human Rights places great importance on observing the minutiae of its provisions, and this week Adam Wagner reported that from 1 January 2014, the ECHR is modifying its Rules of Court with the introduction of a new Rule 47 whereby if you don’t get the forms right and provide the required information, your case will be rejected outright.  Further details are available in its press release.

Staying with administrative quasi-law, the Sentencing Council, an independent, NDPB of the Ministry of Justice, this week published new sentencing guidelines on sexual offences which give greater focus to impact on victims.  The guidelines cover more than 50 offences and aim to focus on the psychological, as much as the physical, effect on the victim.

Recent consistory court judgment

In Re Marley Lane Cemetery Battle [2013] Chichester Cons Ct, Mark Hill Ch held that there was nothing pointing to a special or exceptional circumstance as required by Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299 and since no ground other than the portability concept was advanced, the petition was refused. As observed by the Rt. Revd. Christopher Hill, then Bishop of Stafford, in his paper ‘Theology of Burial’ of September 2001, exhumation for sentiment or convenience or to hang on to the remains of life is a denial of the Christian intention of burial. The Chancellor noted it was not relevant that there was a licence issued under section 25 of the Burial Act 1857 for the exhumation of the remains from the consecrated part of Marley Lane Cemetery or that the PCC at Northchapel had passed a resolution agreeing to the reinterment.

ChurchCare Winter 2013

The Winter edition of the ChurchCare eBulletin contains a number of items of interest: progress on the simplification of faculty process (about which we will post shortly) and the extension of the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme to include turret clocks, bells, works in respect of pipe organs, and certain fees for professional services related to eligible building work, a link to Cathedral Statistics 2012 – which shows an upward trend in cathedral worship and mission – and an update on Shrinking the Footprint.

The Church’s approach to environmental issues is mixed: the environmental advisor to the Archbishops’ Council suggesting that “[t]he most impressive story of the year, however, belongs to the Peacock butterfly”. The Diocesan Environmental Advisors’ Declaration does little to advance thinking or commitment on the environment beyond Christians and the Environment, GS Misc 367 in 1991; The excellent Energy Audit Report 2012/13 details the 2012/13 carbon footprint of energy-use in the Church’s built estate, involving more than a year of gathering energy data from buildings across the country as part of the National Energy Audit. But note the limited data set and check the gaps on the Renewable Energy Systems map.

The statement of the Bishop of London, Chair of Shrinking the Footprint, is therefore particularly apt:

“The mitigation of climate change may have receded from public attention as a result of the financial turbulence but it is vital that Christians keep faith with the themes rightly described by the Diocesan Environment Officers as central to our engagement in mission in today’s world.”

And finally… Reno erat Rudolphus

In his blog, Kelvin Holdsworth alerted us to the plainsong version of Reno erat Rudolphus, (i.e. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer) arranged by Eyolf Østrem. Those who, like David, are concerned with the copyright issues of reproducing material in the service sheets for Crib Services and Midnight Mass will be relieved to learn from Eylof that the music is from the Responsory for the first Nocturn at Matins on Christmas Eve, found in a manuscript from the Abbaye de Fleury, c1170.

So no problems there, then. However, the ownership of the words has had a varied history, and adaptations of the story have employed various circumlocutions to avoid copyright issues. And its translation into Latin? This is considered an ”adaptation” under section 21 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, c.44. Performance at “divine service” is probably OK, (although section 19 of the 1988 Act includes sermons under its heading “performances”). But for the choir Christmas concert, a PRS licence would probably be required.

5 thoughts on “Religion and law round-up – 15th December

  1. Re marriage in a particular place and Scientology: This is a quite ridiculous test. Ipso facto no religions whatsoever advance religion “for the public benefit” and I can’t see how you can possibly construe that any do. They are all a gross public disbenefit by definition. None would pass this test.

    • Not ipso facto at all: merely your assertion.

      It’s not my test: it’s the test set out in the Charities Act 2011. Whether or not “the advancement of religion for the public benefit” ought to be a charitable purpose is a matter for argument; but so long as the law states that is so, then it’s a judgment that the Charity Commission has to make.

  2. My first encounter with Scientologists was when I and some other members of our church youth group went to take advantage of their advertised free IQ and personality tests. A week later we returned for the results, and the Scientologists then claimed that their courses could increase IQ and improve personality. We objected especially to the latter claim, saying that as Christians we disagreed with some of the values their ideas of desirable change were apparently based on. They said that they were not a religion, and had people of all religions as members. They did not call them selves a church then, but the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International (HASI). They said they were the lowest-cost mental health treatment on earth. Soon afterwards the South African Medical and Dental Council started investigations for quackery, and by 1968 they were calling themselves a church, apparently so that they could represent such investigations as “religious persecution”.

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