Religion and law round up – 18th May

A relatively quiet week has given us the opportunity to catch up on a few recent items that we haven’t covered earlier . . .

 . . . however, we were surprised to see that Frank’s piece Prayers at council meetings, US-style was reported by the Irregular Times, (a.k.a. News Unfit for Print) in its summary of comments on Town of GreeceOutrage Over Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court Decision Grows.

CofE (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2014

The Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2014 received Royal Assent on 14 May, and may be accessed on the on the legislation.gov web site. In view of the number of provisions that have been changed, the version available here is useful in that it provides hyperlinks to each of the measures that has been revised, although these changes are yet to be incorporated in the consolidated version on the site, (or even, at the time of writing, in the listing of revisions yet to be incorporated).

Lobbying: updates from Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission has undertaken to issue guidance in July on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 c.4, and on 1 May issued a fifth update relating to Managing Spending, Donations and Permissibility. Its previous four updates contain information on: Introduction to the rules; Regulated activities; Registering as a non-party campaigner; and Online survey results, FAQs and our enforcement approach.

Jersey: update

It has been reported in the Church Times (£), Channel on line and elsewhere that Dame Heather Steel’s final report is now complete and has upheld the decision by the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, not to take disciplinary action against anyone involved.  The bishop is seeking advice on the best way to publish the report without causing harm to “HG”, the woman involved, and has established an “Impact Assessment Group” to investigate how the report by Dame Heather can best be made public. On completion, the Steel report will be given to the Bailiff of Jersey, the Dean of Jersey, and the Ministry of Justice, under the Report’s terms of reference which also envisage its publication in a form to be decided. ITV News reports that the Lieutenant Governor has been informed that it is not possible to be specific regarding the timetable for its publication but this should be within the next few weeks. 

“Island vs mainland” disputes are not confined to the Anglican Church, and this week the BBC reported that parishioners have appealed to the Pope to back a campaign to stop the disused Roman Catholic church in Gorey, Jersey, being knocked down for houses, which the East of Jersey Catholic Church believes is the best option for the site – Jersey comes within the Roman Catholic diocese of Portsmouth. The nineteenth-century building became a church in 1954 and closed in May 2013, coinciding with the retirement of its priest.

Reuse of graves

During Tuesday’s debate on the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure at the Delegated Legislation Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con) questioned the Second Church Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, (Banbury) (Con) on section 2 of the Measure relating to the amendment of the Burial Act 1857, on whether he had considered the critical shortage of burial places?  On the following day, the Daily Mail ran the sensitively-titled story “Dead will have to be dug up and reburied to make space for new graves as cemeteries fill up, MPs warn” which quotes Dr Wollaston:

“’All the measures available have been instituted, such as using plots that have not been taken up and clearing extra ground in cemeteries, but we are now reaching a critical shortage, and I gather that the situation is repeated around the country.”

Further information on the present status was then provided on 15 May when the House of Commons Library published its revised Standard Note SN04060, which included the terse observation:

“The reuse of graves has been under consideration for some time as a means of addressing this problem. In limited circumstances, London burial authorities may already reclaim and reuse old graves.”

In terms of government action, it repeats the 2012 statement of the then junior Justice Minister, Jonathan Djanogly, who said that after careful consideration he had taken the view that introducing a policy of reusing graves was not critical at that time, but the Government had committed itself to keeping the situation under review.

Same-sex marriage: guidance

This week the Christian Institute published the booklet Same-sex marriage: Your legal rights to object – A guide for churches and Christian employees. Although written from the point of view of those who do not wish to conduct marriage ceremonies between same-sex couples, it is nevertheless a comprehensive guide covering the Church of England, the Church in Wales, and non-Anglican churches in England and Wales, within the caveat that “[it] cannot be a definitive statement on the law and specific advice should always be sought on individual circumstances”.

Other guidance on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 has been produced by the EHRC including:

– all of which is in addition to its more general on religion or belief, here.

The Queen and the Scottish independence referendum

As we write, the Church of Scotland is holding its annual General Assembly on the Mound in Edinburgh. Unless she attends in person, each year the Queen appoints a Lord High Commissioner as her representative: the Lord High sits in the gallery of the Assembly Hall, observes the proceedings and is invited to make an opening and a closing address. This year’s Lord High is Prince Edward, who read a message from Her Majesty which included her hope that

“In this important year of referendum, we pray that whatever the outcome, people of faith and people of good will, will work together for the social good of Scotland. We recognise too the important role the Church can play in holding the people of Scotland together, in healing division and safeguarding the interests of the most vulnerable”.

Which (dare we say it) seems to us to be eminently sensible.

And finally . . .

This week we learned from the Christian Institute of the man who wants to marry his porn-filled laptop and who has had his legal bid rejected by a US judge. We questioned whether they were serious in the assertion that this really was an example of the “slippery slope” resulting from legalising same-sex weddings that would lead to further redefinitions of marriage. However, on 16 May the BBC ran the story Algorithm appointed board directorconcerning the venture capital firm, Deep Knowledge Ventures, that had appointed a computer algorithm named Vital to its board of directors. It is not known whether Vital’s statistics have attracted the attention of fellow board members, but we would hope that they have determined whether it qualifies as a “legal person” for the purposes of the Companies Act 2006.

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