Religion and law round up – 29th June

In addition to the Supreme Court judgment on the “right to die”, the week provided a number of other news items across the law and religion spectrum

The Supreme Court and the “right to die”

On Wednesday the Supreme Court handed down judgment in R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice [2014] UKSC 38. By a majority of seven to two it dismissed the appeal brought by Mr Nicklinson and Mr Lamb. It unanimously allows the appeal brought by the DPP and dismissed the cross-appeal brought by “Martin”. Each of the nine Justices gave an individual judgment – which we are still studying.

Same-sex marriage and civil partnership

In a positive frenzy of Government activity:

  • HM Passport Office published the Approved premises list, which summarizes the premises that have been approved for civil marriages and civil partnerships in England and Wales.  However, more up-to-date information may be available from local authorities;
  • the Government Equalities Office and DCMS published the report on the conclusions following the review of civil partnership in England and Wales as required under section 15 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013; and
  • the Ministry of Justice announced a consultation on Marriages by non-religious belief organisations on whether the law should be changed to permit such marriages as required by section 14 of  the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.

During the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill through parliament, the government expressed its opposition to the extension of civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, and also to the broadening of the law to include marriage by non-religious belief organizations: sections 14 and 15 were introduced into the Act as a quid pro quo to counter amendments that had been laid by supporters of these measures.  We will therefore follow its response to submissions on these consultations with interest.

Same-sex marriage and CofE Clergy

On Tuesday the Church of England issued a statement denying stories carried in the weekend papers claiming that there was a “blacklist” of clergy who had married their same sex partners.  However, the Church did acknowledge the existence of an informal, non-executive group under the bishop of Norwich, which was available to diocesan bishops who required information or advice.

The action that may be taken against clergy in contravention of the House of Bishops’ Statement on same sex marriage is dependent upon the circumstances under which they are authorized to conduct their ministry: those relating to the Canon Jeremy Pemberton’s Permission to Officiate, (PTO), in the diocese of Nottingham and Southwell differ from his employment as Deputy Senior Chaplain with the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust and his Licence from the Bishop of Lincoln.  The other married priest in the news, Fr Andrew Cain, is subject to a further different set of terms and conditions of appointment.

In contrast to these issues of immediate concern, on Thursday the Church published Shared Conversations on Sexuality, Scripture and Mission, which progresses the recommendations of the Pilling Report and outlines the next steps in its process for shared conversations on the broader aspects of human sexuality.  It is anticipated that this work will come to a conclusion in July 2016 when the (then) recently-elected General Synod will itself spend two days in shared conversations on this topic. Reports from all the conversations will be drawn together so that the direction and impact of the whole process can be evaluated.

Religion or Belief in the Workplace – and another religious discrimination case at Heathrow?

On Thursday the Equality and Human Rights Commission published an updated version of Religion or Belief in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers Following Recent European Court of Human Rights Judgments.  As one would expect, it looks broadly sensible; however, the fact remains that employment cases are highly fact-sensitive and one cannot lay down simple, bright-line rules.

In that connexion we noted the case of Mrs Nohad Halawi, a Christian who worked at Heathrow Airport, whom The Guardian reports as taking a claim to the Court of Appeal. According to the report, she alleges unfair dismissal and unlawful discrimination by Muslim colleagues. She lost both in the Employment Tribunal and in the Employment Appeal Tribunal [see Halawi v WDFG UK Ltd (t/a World Duty Free) & Anor [2013] UKEAT 0166 13 0410] and since “religion” was nowhere mentioned in the EAT judgment we missed it first time round. But watch this space.

Did the Pope excommunicate the Mafia?

Well yes, and no. On June 21, Pope Francis visited the diocese of Cassano all’Jonio, Calabria, an area that an area which is the stronghold of the local organized crime group, the ‘Ndrangheta, a Mafia-type criminal organisation.  During his homily at Mass in Sibari, he said [1] “When the worship of the Lord is replaced by the worship of money, it opens the way to sin, self-interest and oppression; when you do not worship God, the Lord, we become worshipers of evil. . . . Those who follow this path in their life of evil, as are the mafia, they are not in communion with God, are excommunicated!”

The National Catholic Register suggests that the use of “excommunicated” here was a reflection of theology rather than canon law and acted as a call to conversion for those in organized crime.  The CNR quotes Fr Ciro Benedettini, Vice-Director of the Holy See Press Office, who explained that these words were not a formal legal decree, but more of a message that they cannot receive the sacraments because of their activities.  This view was supported by Father Davide Cito, Professor of Canon and Penal Law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross who suggested the the Pope “did something ‘more’ than the canonical punishment . . . He wanted to bind the ‘excommunication’ to the personal life of mafiosi.

Hijabs and burqas

There were various reports that Turkey’s Constitutional Court has decided by 16-1 that the rights of a female lawyer who was barred from entering a courtroom because she was wearing a headscarf had been violated. The lower court’s refusal to allow headscarf-wearing women into trials was contrary to the Turkish Constitution’s Articles on equality before the law and freedom of religion and conscience. Yet another sign that secularist Turkey is not as secularist as it used to be.

On a similar theme, the Court of Appeal held in R (Baradaran) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Anor [2014] EWCA Civ 854 that the fact that the French Law 2010-1192 of 11 October 2010 prohibiting “in public elementary schools, middle schools and secondary schools, the wearing of symbols or clothing by which the students conspicuously indicate their religious belief ” was not a sufficient reason for halting the removal to France of an Iranian father and daughter. The fact that the girl would not be able to wear religious dress to school did not violate her Convention rights, since the ECtHR had decided that the 2004 Law did not amount to a violation, let alone a ‘flagrant’ violation of Article 9.

But the big event of the coming week will be on 1 July, when the Grand Chamber ECtHR will hand down judgment in SAS v France: the challenge to the more general French law banning face-coverings in public places.

Allah for Muslims only?

In his Religion Law Blog, Neil Addison reviewed the judgment of the Federal Court of Malaysia which supported a ban by the a state Government on the Catholic Herald of Malaysia preventing it from using the word “Allah” as a title for “God” and ending a years-long legal battle that has caused religious tensions in that Muslim-majority country. In addition to his analysis, Neil includes a helpful summary of the history of the case from the Malay Mail Online.

Organ donation: Wales

The 17th June Westminster Hall debate on the Organ Donor Register highlighted the lack of public awareness in this area, a particularly important issue in Wales in view of the introduction of the new “opt-out” legislation from December 2015 when it will become the first UK nation to introduce a system where people will be presumed to have agreed for their organs to be donated.  The Welsh Government has announced that the first in a series of public information television, radio and digital adverts about the new organ donation legislation in Wales would be broadcast from Monday 23 June.

Television adverts will be broadcast during episodes of ITV Wales’ Coronation Street and S4C’s Pobol y Cwm (People of the Valley) and will continue across radio, television and social media in the run up to national transplant week (7-13 July).  In addition, the bilingual twitter account, @OrgDonationCYM, and the organ donation Wales Facebook page will provide the latest information about the soft opt-out legislation.  Both will be updated daily and will act as forums for questions about the forthcoming change in Wales while also providing facts about organ donation in general.

Neonatal organ donation

An aspect of organ donation not addressed in recent debate is the situation relating to children from 37 weeks gestation to 2 months of age.  The Code of Practice for the Diagnosis and Confirmation of Death produced in 2008 by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges concludes that “given the current state of knowledge it is rarely possible confidently to diagnose brain-stem death at this age”.  As a consequence, it is not possible for organs from children in the UK within this group to be used for transplants, and it is necessary to rely upon organs imported from Europe where such constraints do not apply.  A recent report noted:

“[u]nlike in other European countries, Australasia and the USA death verification/certification standards [in the UK] effectively prohibit use of neurological criteria for diagnosing death in infants between 37 weeks’ gestation and 2 months of age and therefore donation after neurological determination of death. Neonatal donation after circulatory definition of death is also possible but is not currently undertaken,”

and concluded

“[w]ith around 60 paediatric organ donors in the UK annually, there does appear significant potential for donation within the neonatal population. Reconsideration of current infant brain stem death guidelines is required to allow parents the opportunity of donation after neurological determination of death, together with mandatory training in organ donation for neonatal teams, which will also facilitate donation after circulatory definition of death.”

Quick links to other events this week

Below is a selection of links to other stories in the news this week that may be of interest to our readers.

And finally . . . . . . .

On 23 June, Christian Today carried the story Church gives away AR-15’s to attract young men to the flock [greengrocer’s apostrophe in the original]  For those such as ourselves who are not up to speed with firearms terminology, the Wikipedia entry provides the helpful description:

“The AR-15 is a lightweight, 5.56 mm/.223-caliber, magazine-fed, air cooled rifle with a rotating-lock bolt, actuated by direct impingement gas operation or long/short stroke piston operation. It has been produced in many different versions, including numerous semi-automatic and selective fire variants.”

The Missouri non-denominational Ignite Church gave away two semi-automatic rifles on Father’s Day to encourage fathers to bring their children and their own fathers to worship service.  To attract men aged 18 to 35 they were given one raffle entry for each child they brought and an additional ticket if they brought their own father to church with them. The Joplin Globe quotes Pastor Heath Mooneyham as saying that the AR-15 giveaway was the best way to reach that population.

“That’s the biggest black hole in our society … If we get people in the door, we get to preach the gospel. If we can get more people to follow Jesus, I’ll give away 1,000 guns. I don’t care.”

Pastor Heath further disagreed with the AR-15s being described as “assault rifles” believing “guns don’t kill people – guns in the hands of the wrong people, kill people” (the mantra of the National Rifle Association). His initiative did not receive universal approbation but, disturbingly, Ignite is not the first Christian institution to give away guns: the Kentucky Baptist Convention promoted “Second Amendment Celebrations” in March, in which churches across the state raffled off weapons; and Grace Baptist Church in Lansingburgh, New York also raffled off an AR-15 in the same month.

To which one’s only rational response can be John 11:35…


[1] Google Translation of: “Quando all’adorazione del Signore si sostituisce l’adorazione del denaro, si apre la strada al peccato, all’interesse personale e alla sopraffazione; quando non si adora Dio, il Signore, si diventa adoratori del male . . . . Coloro che nella loro vita seguono questa strada di male, come sono i mafiosi, non sono in comunione con Dio: sono scomunicati!”.  The full text (in Italian), is available in il Bollettino.

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