Religion and law round up – 23rd March

As usual, some of the things we’ve already noted and some items that we didn’t think merited a separate post 


President of the LDS not to be prosecuted

As previously noted, on 14 March oral argument was heard at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on the summons against Thomas S Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in relation to an attempted private prosecution for promoting theological doctrines which “might be untrue or misleading” in return for gain, in breach of the Fraud Act 2006.

On Thursday District Judge Riddle decided that the summons should be withdrawn, on the grounds that it was an abuse of process and that, in any case, the issues raised were not justiciable. No great surprise: we posted about it here.

Lady Hale on religion and sexual orientation

The Supreme Court posted the text of a lecture by Lady Hale DPSC to the Comparative and Administrative Law Conference at Yale Law School: Religion and Sexual Orientation: The clash of equality rights. We hope to post an analysis later this week.

Sharia and bequests: Law Society practice note

Under sharia law a maximum of one-third of an estate remaining after burial costs and any outstanding debts may be paid to charities or to individuals who are not obligatory heirs. In response to a rise in demand from Muslim clients the Law Society of England and Wales has just published a practice note for solicitors on sharia succession rules and how charitable gifts within sharia wills should be managed. The note is based specifically on Sunni Muslim practice.

Third Sector Finance quotes Azeam Akram, a solicitor at PWT Advice who co-authored the note, as saying that charities named in sharia wills need not necessarily be Muslim or Islam-oriented:

“I haven’t read anywhere that there is a specific prohibition on giving to non-Muslim charities – that would be a thorny issue for some people, but it is really up to the testator”.

The Telegraph reported the story, somewhat sensationally, under the headline “Islamic law is adopted by British legal chiefs” and quotes Baroness Cox to the effect that

“Everyone has freedom to make their own will and everyone has freedom to let those wills reflect their religious beliefs. But to have an organisation such as The Law Society seeming to promote or encourage a policy which is inherently gender discriminatory in a way which will have very serious implications for women and possibly for children is a matter of deep concern”.

Unpacked, what she seems to be saying is, “Everyone has the freedom to make their own will and everyone has freedom to let those wills reflect their religious beliefs provided I agree with the choices they make“.

Women in the ordained ministry – rumours and fact

On 20 March there was a Westminster Hall debate on Women’s Contribution to the Ordained Ministry (Church of England) secured by Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con), [20 Mar 2014 : Vol. 577 Col. 363WH]. Whilst useful for those seeking information on the role played by women in the CofE, there was little parliamentary interest in the debate, Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab) observing that “Members are disappointingly thin on the ground”.  However, his comment that

“one hears rumours that we are getting to the end of our talent pool, as regards male suffragans who can be promoted to diocesan bishop. That is certainly not the case when it comes to our senior women clergy, many of whom I can imagine would make absolutely first-class bishops, [20 Mar 2014 : Vol 577 Col 370WH[”

was presented as fact by the media

“Church is ‘running out of men to be bishops’: Labour MP uses debate on women being consecrated to says Anglican talent pool is drying up”.

If few of the 70 or so suffragans really are unsuitable for consideration as diocesan bishops, the CofE is in serious difficulties. For those seeking fact rather than rumour, the Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Tony Baldry) stated that some 23%, or nearly a quarter, of stipendiary ministers—full-time paid clergy—are women; just over half, or 53%, of self-supporting ministers are women; and some 1,245 people in England are training to become Anglican priests and of those, 594, or 48%, are women. There are now five women deans of cathedrals—in Birmingham, St Edmundsbury, Salisbury, Guildford and York, to which Norwich is to be added in the near future.

Women in the episcopate

A further seven diocesan synods have now voted, bringing the total to 20, all of which have supported the motion. A breakdown of the voting figures has been provided by Peter Owen. For the draft legislation to return to General Synod there must be a simple majority of Diocesan Synods in favour, and this point may be reached next Saturday when Bristol, Hereford, Lincoln, Norwich and Portsmouth vote.

House of Bishops’ Statement on Same-sex Marriage – update

Following the Bishop of Oxford’s Ad Clerum on the HoB Statement of Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage, he used the opportunity of his Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod on 22 March to expand on his initial thoughts, here. In addition, Will Adam’s piece Breaking the rules on gay marriage in the Church Times is now no longer behind a pay wall. The media have also carried stories following the meetings of some clergy with their bishops, but as with such dialogue or any process of negotiation, we do not feel that it is appropriate to comment until there is a settled outcome. We note, however, that some of these conversations have not been on a 1-2-1 basis as might be expected for a pastoral meeting, but have involved diocesan HR to advise the bishop and union representative to support the clergy.

Richard III in Leicester Cathedral

The Cathedral Fabric Commission for England met on 20 March to consider a new application from Leicester Cathedral regarding the installation of “two new windows into St Katharine’s Chapel to commemorate the life and death of King Richard III who was killed in battle at Bosworth, buried in Grey Friars within the parish and now discovered”. These are planned to replace the current plain glass windows. The reinterment of Richard’s remains will be considered at a future meeting, dates of which are listed hereRichard III will make a more corporeal appearance in the Cathedral at the beginning of April when William Shakespeare’s Richard III is staged by the University of Leicester’s theatre group, LUTheatre.

In the meantime, we await with interest the reserved judgment of the Court of Appeal in the associated judicial review proceedings.

Chapel of St Mary Undercroft

In our previous roundup we pointed out that the Chapel does not come under the jurisdiction of a bishop but is under the Monarch’s control, and it was her recent decision that its use should not be extended to all faiths. This week, Her Majesty was again involved in decisions concerning the Chapel: the Speaker of the House of Commons announced that Tony Benn’s coffin would be brought to the crypt chapel on the afternoon of Wednesday 26 March to rest overnight before being taken to St Margaret’s church for his funeral service, HC Hansard 20 Mar 2014  : Vol 577 Col 938

Tony Benn is only the second politician to be granted this privilege, the other being Margaret Thatcher. Some readers may be aware that suffragette Emily Wilding Davison hid in a cupboard in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft on Census night 1911 in order to use the “House of Commons” as her address—an event commemorated by an unofficial plaque placed there by Tony Benn.

And finally…

We normally aim to keep well away from party politics (after all, this blog is meant to be respectable family reading) but the latest news from UKIP is irresistible. Having told the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that religious wedding ceremonies should be stripped of their legal status and that couples who want to wed in church should have to undergo two ceremonies, one civil and the other religious, UKIP leader Nigel Farage apparently went on to say that if he came to power he would not abolish same-sex marriage despite having campaigned against it before it became law.

Or there again, maybe he didn’t. In a statement posted on the UKIP website on the following day, 19 March, he said that ““The statement attributed to me yesterday was not made by me and not approved by me. It was a draft by a staff member that should never have been sent out”.

So now we know.

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