Religion and Law round-up – 19th January

Is atheism a religion?

We noted the reports in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph about an Afghan man who, because he became an atheist after coming to the UK, has been granted asylum on the grounds that, as an atheist, he would be in physical danger were he to be returned to Afghanistan. The case was submitted to the Home Office under the 1951 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees; however, it also has resonance with Article 9 ECHR, because that Article protects both freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to change one’s religion or belief. The alternative would be to assert that an atheist does not have a conscience  – which would be manifestly ridiculous.

UN Committee on the Rights of the Child holds sixty-fifth session

The Committee on the Rights of the Child is meeting at the Palais Wilson in Geneva from 13 to 31 January 2014 to review the promotion and protection of children’s rights under the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols (on involvement of children in armed conflict and on child pornography) in Congo, Yemen, Holy See, Portugal, Russian Federation and Germany.

The Holy See is presenting its second periodic report CRC/C/VAT/2 under the Convention, and the Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on the initial report, considered in November 1995, can be found in CRC/C/15/Add.46.  The Holy See is also presenting its initial report under the Optional Protocol on children and armed conflict CRC/C/OPAC/VAT/1 and its initial report under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography CRC/C/OPSC/VAT/1.

The Committee will publish its concluding observations on the reports and meetings on Wednesday, 5 February, and a Press Conference is scheduled for 11.30 a.m. at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Baptism, continued

Whilst the Church of England considers additional material for use in its baptism service, Pope Francis has set canon lawyer commentators commentating, following reports in La Stampa that on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord he baptized a number of children in the Sistine Chapel including one whose parents were civilly-married but not married in the Church. As might be expected, canon lawyer Ed Peters provided an excellent analysis in his blog How popes, baptism, marriage, and form, all come together, exploring the “unmarried” nature of the civilly-married Catholic couple on the ground that they reportedly did not observe “canonical form” in marrying “in the Church” as required by 1983 CIC 1108, 1117 He questions whether the “canonical form” requirement has outlived its usefulness and suggests that this might be addressed at the forthcoming Synod on the Family and EvangelizationSee also Fr Z’s blog here and here,  and Dr Peter’s follow-up post.

Of Vesture – I, postscript

GamarelliJust over a year ago, our post Of Vesture – I considered the appointment of six Cardinals by Pope Benedict; and Vatican Insider’s estimate that each could spend €4,000 to €5,000 for the associated Cardinal’s ‘tat’. On this basis, the recent announcement of 19 new Cardinals, (16 of whom are not too old to vote)[1] could yield up to €95,000 new business for Gammarelli; but we wonder whether this is likely to be realized in view of the new Pope’s approach to his own vesture. Regardless of how much or how little each of the new Cardinal spends on his new clothes, the most significant item could be the Cardinal’s ring, which he receives from the Pope. For his own ring, Pope Francis selected an existing design and chose gold-plated silver rather than solid gold.

Animal Welfare: Methods of Slaughter

A short debate in the House of Lords was secured by Lords Trees, (CB), who asked Her Majesty’s Government “what assessment they have made of the ethical, legal and religious factors that influence the way in which some animals are slaughtered in the United Kingdom.” Their Lordship’s considerations on 16 January were wide ranging and well-informed, and supplement the information included in the House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/SC/1314, ‘Religious Slaughter’, as last updated on 11 June 2012, reviewed here, which included successive coalition government promises for action dating back to 2010

Responding to Thursday’s debate, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con) stated that he anticipated that regulations on EU Regulation 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing would be laid before the House in April.  With regard to the equally problematic issue of labelling, Lord De Mauley acknowledged that the Government was aware of concern about non-stunned meat being sold on to the general meat market, but that there are some practical difficulties in identifying the method of slaughter for all meat from the point of source to the point of consumption. He stated that the results of an European Commission commissioned study were ”due shortly” and the government would “look carefully at what options are available for providing information to consumers”.  Supporters of religious slaughter will welcome that there seems to be little more commitment to action than there was in 2010, here.  


Further to the suggested New Year Resolutions of Full Fact [“promoting accuracy in public debate”] with a view “to make 2014 a more accurate year for politics”, reported here, we note that the British Humanist Association (BHA) has announced its support for the Ask for Evidence campaign, which aims to hold companies, politicians, commentators and public bodies accountable for the claims they make. Although the campaign is run by Sense about Science, a “UK-based charitable trust to encourage an evidence-based approach to scientific and technological developments”, a number of the issues addressed such as claims on climate change are of relevance to law and religion.

In view of the Defamation Act 2013 and Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013 SI 3028 discussed here, we strongly believe that there is room for another campaign, “Identify yourself!”, that aims to end bloggers hiding behind pseudonyms associated with their comments.

King Alfred the Great – Update

Wessex Flag, IMG_2723On 8 August it was reported that a local group had been granted permission “to carry out scientific investigations on human remains, recovered from St Bartholomew’s church earlier this year, to ascertain whether or not they belong to King Alfred”.

Well, they’re not. Reports by the BBC and elsewhere indicate that these were subsequently dated as being from the 1300s, not 899 when King Alfred died; but a fragment of pelvis bone discovered at a previous dig at Hyde Abbey has been dated to 895-1017 and may belong to King Alfred the Great or his son Edward the Elder, or not.

This leaves the Diocese of Winchester with the dilemma of what to do with the assorted bones dug up at St Bartholomew’s. Since they had already been on walkabout before their most recent interment, it could be argued that this is not necessarily the logical place for their final resting place, where there may some residual risk from the theft or vandalism that resulted in their precipitous exhumation. The recent story also provides a contrast in the treatment of the remains exhumed under the Church of England’s faculty jurisdiction which are still under its care and control, with the 1999 fragments which had remained forgotten in two boxes at Winchester’s City Museum.

And finally, how secure is your password?

This week the BBC reported “Man jailed for refusing to give police USB stick password”, which it alleges neither the police nor the GCHQ could crack. Other versions of the story vary on detail, but the main point is that the code he finally revealed was “$ur4ht4ub4h8”, a play on words relating to a chapter of the Koran. In 2012, SplashData analyzed millions of passwords released online by hackers to compile its list of the most used passwords and whilst “password,” “123456” and “12345678” were again the top three most common passwords, “Jesus” was a newcomer at #21.

Wikipedia has a mind-numbing item on Password Strength and whilst we do not propose to explore “information entropy”, we note that “strong” passwords generally include a minimum of 12 to 14 characters, if permitted, and a mixture of upper- and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Since randomly-generated passwords are preferable, and those that could be associated with personal interests &c are to be avoided, neither Frank nor David will be using “L@w&r5l1gi0NuK”, despite its apparent “strength” according to some web-based software. [And Frank would never remember it anyway…]

[1] We are not in a position to comment on the significance of these appointments, but note the analysis of the distribution of “red hats” made by Vatican Insider and John Thavis amongst others.

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