Religion and Law round-up – holiday edition

For those of us who can tear ourselves away from the Christmas leftovers…

Few newsworthy issues of law and religion tend to arise during the period between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, although the National Secular Society published a short post early on 25 December just as choristers were preparing for their last service of the festive season. Nevertheless there have been one or two items of interest, as well as others clearly manufactured by the media, and we have summarized a selection of each.

Alcohol, pork and M & S

Marks & Spencer was in the news after someone told the Telegraph about a failed attempt to buy a bottle of champagne from an M&S store in London: apparently the member of staff on the checkout “was very apologetic but said she could not serve me” and asked the customer to use another till. A spokesperson for M&S said:

“Where we have an employee whose religious beliefs restrict food or drink they can handle, we work closely with our member of staff to place them in suitable role, such as in our clothing department or bakery in foods”.

Over at UKHRB Adam Wagner suggests that:

“There is no clear obligation on M&S in law to allow Muslims (or Jews or vegetarians for that matter) not to serve a product they disagree with, but there may be an obligation, once the issue is raised, to consider it reasonably and at least try to make an accommodation if possible.

But even if there is no such obligation at all, so long as the champagne-buyer gets hold of his or her booze, what’s the problem? Sounds to us like a sensible example of reasonable accommodation.

Veiling in France

The National Secular Society’s post provided a link to an article by Jonathan Derbyshire on The veil and religious neutrality—version française which explored the application of France’s charte de laïcité in relation to schools and the grey area concerning persons who are required sometimes to enter the school, such as mothers of Muslim pupils. This was considered recently by the Conseil d’Etat which on 20 December reported on its deliberations: it concluded that parents collecting their children from school are merely “users” of public services, as opposed to “agents” of or “collaborators” in those services, and therefore not subject to the “demands of religious neutrality”.

Clergy and “dress down Sunday”

Clearly grasping at straws, on 21 December the Daily Mail ran with the headlineVicars defrocked! Fears of jeans and hoodies in pulpit as Synod votes to decide if clergy’s robes are surplice to requirements. There is no need to remind readers of this blog of the error in equating the laicizing of a priest with the specific issues of vesture referred to in the Revd Christopher Hobbs’ Private Members’ Motion to General Synod, which relate to paragraphs 1 and 2 of Canon B 8.

Although on the Agenda for the February 2014 Synod, Mr Hobbs’ proposal was first raised in November 2012, and is down for consideration on the final day after Synod has concluded its deliberations on the Girl Guide promise. Those who have seen the Revd Roly Bain (aka Roly the Clown) will appreciate that the Church of England can be quite relaxed in the matter of vesture at divine service[1] , but the proposed laissez faire regime, applicable to all service and subject only to the whim of a priest, is seriously misguided. Furthermore, any such change in the specifics referred to in Canon B 8 would still be subject to the generality of Canon C 27, Of the dress of ministers:

“The apparel of a bishop, priest, or deacon shall be suitable to his office; and, save for purposes of recreation and other justifiable reasons, shall be such as to be a sign and mark of his holy calling and ministry as well to others as to those committed to his spiritual charge.”

Pardons, Amnesties and Anniversaries

An anniversary, or the prospect of a forthcoming one, provides a convenient focus for action that would otherwise have not been considered.  The 20th anniversary of Russia’s Constitution provided an opportunity for the State Duma, the lower house of parliament to give its unanimous support the amnesty legislation submitted by President Vladimir Putin. This will allow the release of Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, who are serving ‘two years deprivation of liberty in a penal colony’ for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’, having ‘crudely undermined social order’. The amnesty also applies to the Arctic 30, the thirty members of the Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise crew who have now been released following their detention in September after staging a protest at Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil rig in the Barents Sea.  The proximity of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in February may also have been persuasive.

The posthumous pardon granted to Dr Alan Turing under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen on 24 December presents a more complex set of issues, the legal aspects of which are analyzed in Carl Gardner’s thought-provoking post Alan Turing: a strain’d quality of irrational and arbitrary mercy.  Government dismissed the opportunity to grant a pardon in the centenary year of Turing’s birth, [2 Feb 2012 : Column WA341], and there were objections from government whips to the second reading of Lord Starkey’s Private Members Bill, Alan Turing (Statutory Pardon) Bill [HL] 2013-14.  Carl Gardner quotes the point made by Lord Bassam on Twitter:

“[t]his pardon won’t touch Turing’s conviction any more than the statutory one would have. But the new argument against the government’s approach is that, in order to claim the main credit for this PR gesture, it’s had to monkey with the traditional grounds for exercise of the prerogative of mercy”.

The Guardian presented a different perspective, quoting David Leavitt, Professor of English at Florida University

“With the situation in Russia regarding LGBT rights, and the recent decision by the supreme court in India to reinstate the criminalisation of homosexuality, “for this [the pardon] to come from the Queen, is going to send a really important message, especially to the Commonwealth”.

And then there’s the knock-on effects on the Pilling Report.

‘Overzealous’ Church vets 58,000 workers in a year…

… or so readers of the Boxing Day edition of the Daily Telegraph were led to believe, as the result of a report by the Manifesto Club [“for freedom in everyday life”] following a FoI request and extrapolation of the data received [2]. However, one wonders what the editorial staff and readers of the paper would make of the Manifesto Club “think piece” A Grown-up Child Protection Policy by George Hoare which concludes:

“Child protection policies are harmful to children, and encourage suspicion amongst adults. […] CRB checks and ‘no touch’ rules should be scrapped in favour of a policy that supports spontaneous, unregulated interaction between generations,”

In his letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Vinson suggested that criminal records checks

“are not necessary on volunteers … who do not have an intensive relationship with children and whose contact is minimal”.

The Safeguarding Handbook of the Oxford Diocese, which is “consistent with the policies of the national church, with legal requirements and with accepted good practice”, demonstrates the adoption of such an approach. It states [page 25] “PCCs must not request CRB Disclosures for those for whom it is not required. To do so may be acting illegally and could lead to prosecution”, and lists seven groups who are “unlikely to be eligible for CRB Disclosures”, including

“[t]hose who work only very occasionally and not regularly and do not meet the frequency or intensity definitions of regulated activity”, c.f. supra.

However, in addition to clergy, pastoral assistants and lay workers, there are several roles within a church that have more frequent contact with children or vulnerable adults, and as such are likely to be eligible for Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) Disclosure, including: musical directors, organists, choir leaders; tower captains, ringing masters and adult ringers involved in training; youth club leaders and helpers; Sunday school teachers and helpers.

Given that the CofE has over 16,000 churches, it does not take much imagination to see how the figure of 58,000 might be produced. What we would query, however, is the use of the word “overzealous”, and why those in the above categories should not be subject to some degree of scrutiny. One suspects that the readers of the Torygraph would be amongst the first to complain were safeguarding to fail as a consequence of such an omission.

[And just in case you think we’re scaremongering, the vicar of the church that Frank attended as a teenager was sent down for a year for indecently assaulting small boys (though F was not one of his victims)]

[1] See for 6 September 2013.

[2] The Report was not available on-line at the time of writing, but the Telegraph article suggests “some 25 CofE dioceses made 22,235 checks, 80 per cent of which were made on volunteers. Extrapolated for all 42 dioceses, it would have resulted in some 37,000”. The final figure includes checks were made by umbrella bodies, but it is not clear from the article how the final figure was derived.

One thought on “Religion and Law round-up – holiday edition

  1. “. . . so long as the champagne-buyer gets hold of his or her booze, what’s the problem? Sounds to us like a sensible example of reasonable accommodation.” One problem might be that you had queued for the checkout with a big shop and were then turned away. Another might be that you had to go to different checkouts to get your booze, your pork, your beef etc. With numbers of religious zealots competing to make a mark we – shoppers and shopkeepers – could be faced with chaos. Already some pharmacists refuse to dispense prescriptions for emergency contraception.

    It may have been sensible in Eweida to rule out the defence that she could always get another job – but there must surely be a limit to the right of the faithful to pick and choose just which duties attached to their employment they are prepared to perform.

    Religion is the odd one out among discrimination strands: it has an intellectual content (claims about the nature of the world and about how one should behave) that are highly contested and sometimes disparaging towards those of other or no faiths and towards some groups identified by characteristics of other strands (women, LGBT, disabled). In this it is utterly unlike all the other strands. But we have got into a situation where these contested beliefs and opinions are privileged over almost any other belief or opinion. It ends up being very divisive.

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