Religion and law round up – 9th March

A fairly busy week: the Mormon temple in Preston, Welsh devolution, women in the C of E episcopate, selling “church treasures” – and more

Caste in Britain

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published two new research reports – Caste in Britain: Socio-legal Review and Caste in Britain: Experts’ Seminar and Stakeholders’ Workshop – as part of a project undertaken at the request of Government following the requirement in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 for the inclusion of a statutory prohibition on caste discrimination within the Equality Act 2010 .

Key findings include the following:

  • Caste is a form of identity that is used as a basis for social differentiation distinct from class, race or religion.
  • Discrimination against an individual because of caste, including perception of caste, in education, employment, housing, business or public services cannot be tolerated and should be included in the protections against discrimination and harassment provided in the Equality Act 2010.
  •  However, the State should not intervene in cultural or social usages which are a matter of private practice. Therefore, in regulating in this area particular regard should be given to individuals’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • The definition of caste should be neither too precise nor too broad.  A minimum definition of caste in terms of endogamy (marriage restricted within a specific group) inherited status and social stratification would be useful.
  • Businesses and public authorities will need clear and practical information about how the prohibition of caste discrimination will affect them. The Commission’s initial view is that the impact will be small, given that the straightforward message remains that employers and service providers must not make decisions on the basis of irrelevant considerations such as caste.

Mormon temples and “public religious worship”

On Monday the ECtHR handed down its judgment in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v United Kingdom [2014] ECHR 227, in which the Church had challenged the decision that its temple in Preston did not qualify for exemption from non-domestic rates as a “place of public religious worship”  because access to the temple was restricted only to those members of the Church in sufficiently good standing to have a “temple recommend” from their bishop.

In short, the LDS lost: the ECtHR held that the matter was within the UK Government’s margin of appreciation and that there had been no violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 9, nor was it necessary to examine the  complaint under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. You can read our analysis here.

Silk Commission on Devolution in Wales

The Commission on Devolution in Wales chaired by Paul Silk delivered its second and final Report on Monday. The issue of legislating for the Church in Wales was not mentioned [1] – though it might get swept up in a general transfer of powers should the Government accept the Commission’s principal recommendation. The Commission wishes to see a move from the present conferred powers model of devolution, under which the National Assembly has specific powers expressly granted to it by the UK Parliament, to a reserved powers model under which anything not specifically reserved to Westminster is devolved. All that is a long way in the future; but if it were to happen one cannot imagine Westminster wanting to reserve the power to legislate for the C in W.

Perhaps the oddest recommendation was that “There should be at least one judge on the United Kingdom Supreme Court with particular knowledge and understanding of the distinct requirements of Wales”. National pride apart, why exactly? By the time a case gets to the SC the facts have been crawled over endlessly and what is usually at stake is a very precise and complex set of arguments as to the law. Proprieties and sensitivities apart, is there any reason in principal why an English case could not perfectly properly be decided by Lord Kerr, Lord Reed and Lord Hodge or a Scots one by Lady Hale, Lord Sumption and Lord Toulson (apart from the obvious one that the SC does not normally sit in panels of three)? Pure idle speculation, obviously: but one cannot help wondering whether, at the SC’s level of operation, it would make any great difference to the outcome.

29 March 2014 and the CofE

This year, 29 March could be an important day for the Church of England. Following General Synod’s vote on 11 February in favour of women in the episcopate, the legislative process moves to the Diocesan Synods which will vote on the motion

“That this Synod approve the proposals embodied in the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure and draft Amending Canon No 33.”

For the motion to be carried within a Diocese, the Houses of Clergy and Laity must each vote, by a simple majority, in favour. Within the Church as a whole, a simple majority of Dioceses is required to carry the motion.  The voting of each Diocese and the date on which these votes are taken is being followed by Peter Owen on Thinking Anglicans, and from these it appears that 29 March is the earliest on which a simple majority within the Dioceses could be achieved.  A deadline of 22 May has been set for these votes to take place and all nine Dioceses that have voted to date have approved the motion.  The Diocese of Europe has indicated that it is unable to meet this timetable.

29 March is also the earliest date upon which the same sex marriage of CofE clergy might take place, contrary to the position outlined in the House of Bishops’ Statement of Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage.  Secular legislation requires notice of any marriage on this day to be displayed on the public notice board of the appropriate register office on 13 March. However, on today’s Sunday programme on Radio 4, one priest who has announced his intention to marry indicated that this was planned for three months’ time, prior to which he would be having a meeting with his bishop.

Church and cathedral music

Our post on Friday commented on the problems facing many English cathedral choirs, whose costs represent a significant proportion of the overall operating costs of the cathedral. Nevertheless, there was a more upbeat message in the Prospero blog of the Economist,  Cathedral choirs – Sing and they will come, which commented on the growing popularity of Choral EvensongThe blog cites From Anecdote to Evidence, Findings from the Church Growth Research Programme 2011-2013, a recent report from the theological college Cranmer Hall, which found that attendance at services in British cathedrals rose by 35% between 2000 and 2012, resulting chiefly from an increase in worshippers at weekday services, i.e. Choral Evensong, a service which follows the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, although the musical settings are often more modern.

However, the popularity of the service does not have a direct impact on cathedral finances; and the Dean of Durham Cathedral, Michael Sadgrove, puts this into perspective in his comment “[t]o put it bluntly, Evensong across the country offers a free daily recital. It’s a wonderful cultural offering.”

It’s the ECtHR, stupid

Ms Jacqueline Minor, of the EC’s Representation to the UK, complained to the Press Complaints Commission that The Sun had inaccurately conflated the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights in a headline to an article on a decision by the ECtHR about whole-life sentences. She was particularly concerned that the inaccurate headline had been published only two weeks after the PCC had established another breach of the Code in a complaint by the European Commission on the same issue.

The PCC resolved the matter by facilitating a meeting between representatives of the EC and representatives of The Sun to discuss the error and broader concerns about the paper’s reporting of European human rights law and the EU. It was agreed that The Sun would devise and circulate a memo and graphic to staff, the terms of which were agreed with the complainant, explaining the differences between the two and emphasising that the inaccuracy should not be repeated.

Should’ve gone to Specsavers. Or maybe read our idiot’s guide part III.

And finally…

The Times reported (£) that

“[t]he right [sic] of hundreds of churches to sell their historic treasures to repair leaky roofs hangs on a landmark appeal over a 16th-century helmet. The Flemish helmet dating from 1500 had been in a village church in Hampshire but was sold at auction for £45,000 to a private buyer, to finance running costs and repairs.”

The proposed sale by the PCC of Wootton St Lawrence was deferred after the Church of England’s Church Buildings Council challenged it and it is currently the subject of an appeal to the Court of Arches. The complicating factor is that the helmet is no longer in the church: some 40 years ago it was removed from the tomb with which it was associated and taken to the Royal Armouries for safe-keeping.

But with great (well, a certain amount of) respect to The Times, Church of England congregations  do not have a “right … to sell their historic treasures”. They have a right to petition for a faculty to allow them to do so – which is a very different matter from a “right to sell”. Every faculty application is considered case by case: some are granted, some are rejected. That’s why there’s a system at all: on the one hand to prevent PCCs from treating as their own property the buildings and contents of which they are merely the temporary trustees and, on the other, to make sure that any central policy on disposals is operated in a way that is sensitive to local needs and conditions.


[1] The Church in Wales’s submission to the Silk Commission is available here.

2 thoughts on “Religion and law round up – 9th March

  1. Pingback: Religion and law round up – 9th March | L...

  2. Pingback: Sale of “Church Treasures” | Law & Religion UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *