Religion and law round up – 27th July

With the Commons in recess and the summer holidays about to start, the next round-up will be published on 17 August, provided that there’s something to report . . . .

 . . . . however, we will continue to publish on the important developments in law and religion, and on Monday there will be a timely guest post from Peter Owen on the processes involved in the appointment of bishops.  Nevertheless, even we take holidays[1], and David will be holding the fort next week whilst Frank is away and will then be touring Normandy with the choir of SS Peter and Paul, Wantage.

Eid and Diwali as Bank Holidays

On Friday in Public holidays, religion and the law, we reviewed the sparsely attended Westminster Hall debate on whether Eid and Diwali should become bank holidays – they couldn’t become “common law”/public holidays.  We noted that the debate/government response did not provide the “positive answer” that MP Bob Blackman suggested the largest e-petition deserved; and  squeezing the debate into this odd spot, before MPs leave on their 5-week break, raises questions about the rigid bureaucracy associated with the e-petition system.  The debate was also reviewed by the NSS, for which its executive director, Keith Porteous Wood, said:

“Some of the UK’s public holidays have Christian (and before that, Pagan) associations, but in our secularized country are now celebrated as much by non-Christians as Christians. Any further public holidays granted on religious grounds will however prompt the next largest religion to demand its most revered days off, and then the next, which is unsustainable. Both the religious and non-religious should be able make arrangements to enjoy time off with their friends and family on days which are important to them. Schools and employers should be free to make their own arrangements as to what days they close, and presumably, reduce other annual leave entitlement and general holidays accordingly”.

Ecclesiastical Committee

The Ecclesiastical Committee of the Houses of Parliament met on 22 July to consider the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure, following which Sir Tony Baldry reported on Twitter that it had been approved unanimously.  No formal report of the meeting is yet available, but there is a recording of the public part of their meeting, here.  For those not wishing to view this for the full for 1 hour 16 minutes, John Bingham of The Daily Telegraph has summarized aspects of the meeting in his article Church of England to use positive discrimination to boost women bishops.  There is a certain irony that the Church now has to justify the  future positive discrimination of women in the appointment process; and the new tranche of legislation which now contains provisions to accommodate the views of PCCs opposed to women in the episcopate; whereas its previous concerns in this area where the discrimination against women in the episcopate – all within the provisions of the 2010 Equality Act.

Exclusive Brethren again

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR, or “Oscar” to its intimates) has confirmed the charitable status of two independent schools affiliated to the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, otherwise the Hales Exclusive Brethren:  Focus School – Laurieston Campus and  Focus School – Millden Campus. OSCR paid particular attention to the Brethren community’s disciplinary practices of ‘shrinking’ or ‘excommunication’ and explored with the schools any consequences for a pupil whose parents were subject to the processes of shrinking or excommunication within the Brethren community. The charity trustees advised OSCR that shrinking and excommunication were used by the Brethren community in general only as a last resort and were not applied to children under the age of 17. Moreover, where a child’s parent or other family members were subject to shrinking or excommunication the child was still welcome at the school. On that basis, OSCR concluded that there were no unduly restrictive conditions on obtaining the benefit provided by the schools, nor was there evidence of disbenefit arising from their activities.

Coming as it does after the Charity Commission’s recent decision to register five meeting halls of the Exclusive Brethren in addition to Preston Down (which was registered in January), OSCR’s decision seems to end the uncertainty about the charitable status of the Exclusive Brethren – at least for the moment.

The murky world of marginal employment

Partly as a result of a query that Frank received, we published a note on.the rather confused status of church-workers who are not office holders or employees on standard contracts of employment. This is an issue that becomes more complicated by the month; and the only sensible conclusion is to be extremely careful when entering agreements to take on interns or similar and to remember that in case of a dispute courts and tribunals will look at the factual situation and the intentions of the parties, whatever they may have put in writing and whatever they may have thought they might have agreed.

And we’re still waiting to see what the Court of Appeal will make of Sharpe.

Halal food in French prisons?

Last November the administrative tribunal in Grenoble ruled that Saint-Quentin-Fallavier prison must begin serving halal meals in its canteen, citing French laws guaranteeing “free exercise of religion” and Article 9 ECHR after an appeal by a Muslim inmate. It was the first time that a court or tribunal had ruled that a prison must provide food in accordance with inmates’ religious beliefs and was hailed as “a major breakthrough” by the lawyer acting for the applicant.

But not for long. The Conseil d’Etat suspended execution of the judgment pending an appeal and on Tuesday the Cour Administrative d’Appel of Lyons annulled the direction to serve halal meals in prison. In justification, the court argued that

“… taking into account the opportunity for detainees to benefit from meals without pork or vegetarian meals, the availability of suitable food at major festivals and the ability to buy halal meat through the canteen, a balance was struck between the needs of the public service and the rights of detainees in religious matters”.

One for Strasbourg, perhaps?

Quick Links

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

And finally (with Yahoo) . . . . .

The Washington Post reports that Yahoo Japan has launched service to delete users’ files and send email to their relatives when they die.  It explains that in Japan, preparing for major events in life has become an institution: “shukatsu,” when seeking a new job; “konkatsu,” when looking to get married; and “ninkatsu,” for when hoping to become pregnant.  Recently, Yahoo has launched the “Yahoo Ending”[2] a service directed at the problems encountered by families who lack the passwords or legal authority necessary to close down the Facebook or other online accounts of relatives who have died.

When users register for this service, which costs $1.80 a month, they receive a booking number to share with someone they trust and when they die, that person calls a Yahoo Ending number and provides the booking number, and then the deceased’s funeral preferences are shared.  The funeral home sends the cremation permit to Yahoo to trigger the sending of e-mails and the deletion of files.

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[1] However, anyone coming across Four Weddings and a Fumarole will realize that over the last few years, David’s annual walking holiday in Italy has been accompanied by a short post on another site.

[2] “shukatsu”: pronounced the same but written differently in Japanese from the job-searching term.