A week that saw Donald Tusk approved as the next EU president, a continuation of the domestic row about the ECHR – and L&RUK passing another milestone…
Halal and shechita
On Thursday we again posted on the debate surrounding religious slaughter, following a report in The Times (£) that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb has called inter alia for experiments on stunning sheep and cattle in order to satisfy consumers of halal meat. Although not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords, the 16-page report is nevertheless an important document: it summarizes the results of the APPG’s Inquiry during which it receive oral and written evidence from a wide range of stakeholders such as industry experts: Shechita UK, the Halal Food Authority; veterinary professionals, the Farming Minister George Eustice and the European Commission.
The fact that it has been in the public domain since early August is perhaps a reflection of the balanced nature of its findings, to which we will probably return at a later date. A more detailed summary is available here.
UK population statistics
Also on Thursday the the Office of National Statistics published the most recent data on the UK population in the period to the end of 2013: It includes annual estimates of the UK population by country of birth and nationality and annual statistics on live births, including the countries of birth for non-UK born mothers and fathers. For those interested in issues of religion and society it is extremely useful general background. It also confirms what many of us suspected: Polish is not far from overtaking Welsh as the second most widely-spoken language in the UK.
Human rights again
The low-level war of attrition over the Human Rights Act 1998 continues to rumble on. On Thursday The Times (£) published an interview with Lord Faulks QC, Minister of State for Justice, in which he told Frances Gibb that
“There will be something in the manifesto that will certainly changes our arrangement with the Strasbourg court. My personal view? I think we should think of leaving the Convention if we can’t get a satisfactory arrangement … We can be perfectly content with the terms of the European Convention … which is an impressive document, but the question is: should we be allowing Strasbourg to make decisions in areas where we have the Supreme Court and Parliament to decide. I don’t think it is quite as binary as saying: we either accept or reject [the court] but I do think we should be encouraging it to be far less intrusive in areas where we have a clear view expressed by parliament as our sovereign body.”
Earlier in the week The Sun had the front-page headline “Euro judges go against UK in 3 out of 5 cases” which is not entirely inaccurate in terms of cases that have gone to a full hearing – though it fails to take account, for example, of cases rejected on grounds such as failure to exhaust domestic remedies. However, with regard to the total number of applications involving the UK it is out by several miles, as Adam Wagner points out on UKHRB. But it all depends on how you do the stats; and it resulted in a very lively debate on Twitter, of which this is just a sample.
And another sacked registrar
Today’s Sunday Times reports (£) that Margaret Jones, an Evangelical Christian who had been dismissed from her post as senior deputy registrar at Bedford for refusing to marry same-sex couples because of her Christian beliefs and thereby “bringing the council into disrepute” was offered her job back after an appeal hearing. According to the report, the appeal panel ruled that Central Bedfordshire Council had failed to take a “balanced view” of her religious beliefs. She had said that she was willing to handle the paperwork on the day of the marriage ceremony but not to conduct the wedding ceremony itself, on the grounds that
“I want people who get married to have a good experience and I don’t think I could stand up and say that it ‘gives me great pleasure’ to declare a gay couple married”.
According to the Sunday Times report, the appeal hearing said that EHRC guidance notes “encourage employers and employees to find reasonable solutions to religion or belief issues at work”. The Council responded that the issues were complex and
“we are responding to relatively new legislation, which means the council’s duty not to discriminate has to be balanced against employees’ individual rights”.
Ms Jones decided that though she had won her appeal she would not be returning to her job because the process had left her “too disillusioned”.
This, of course, is no legal precedent for anything: however, it may possibly be a sign of a slight shift in attitudes within local government in the light of the latest EHRC guidance. It will also be interesting to see what comes out of the EHRC’s recent call for evidence on religion or belief issues.
Next week in Westminster
The House of Commons returns from its summer recess on Monday – the Lords will not return until 13 October – although MPs will be observing pre-referendum purdah, just as they avoid controversial business in the run-up to local and euro-elections. Nevertheless, on Monday there will be a debate led by the Conservative Fiona Bruce (Congleton, Con) and Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South, Lab) on mitochondrial replacement techniques (i.e. the misleadingly named “three-parent IVF”) and the potential risks to children born as a result of this technology. On Friday an adjournment debate has been secured by Dr Matthew Offord, (Hendon, Con) on the provision of burial space in London, which is reaching critical levels in some parts of the capital. Unlike other parts of the country, however, the reuse of old private graves is permitted under provisions within the London Local Authorities Act 2007. The House will rise again on 12 September for the party conference season, and return on 13 October.
Westminster Faith Debates: The Future of the Church of England, University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford:
This week we passed 200,000 page views. That figure is according to the WordPress statistical analysis: our service provider’s version suggests that we’ve had over 600,000 visits in the last twelve months but we don’t believe it. Or if it is true, it’s probably statistical inflation caused by dodgy websites wanting to link with ours. And since we cannot seriously believe that sites that advertise counterfeit watches, running-shoes, handbags and suchlike are remotely interested in the kind of stuff we do, it’s best to ignore it and be thankful that Akismet seems to catch almost all the spam.
To paraphrase Howard Friedman’s mission statement for Religion Clause, our purpose is to provide objective coverage of the legislation associated with religion and law, with extensive links to primary sources. As such we do not have a particular political or religious agenda to pursue, and for the most part our blog is reactive to current events: we write it because we’re interested in the subject and, consequently, viewing numbers are not our primary concern. However, they do provide a measure of guidance on its format and scope. We dropped the monthly legislative tracking item “Forthcoming events in religion and law” as it did not attract much interest but, by contrast, we have developed the weekly “Law and religion round-up” which is now an established component of the blog. The recent inclusion of “Quick (hyper-) Links” is intended to provide a degree of tracking (mainly from Parliamentary sites) along with summaries and articles from other blogs &c.
When we started this, neither of us realised how much stuff there would be to report; and the fact that we’ve been going for over two years, written nearly 700 posts and have just over 150 subscribers to the blog and 750 followers on Twitter shows how much “religion” has risen up the legal and political agenda in the past few years. A corollary to the amount of material falling within the broad heading of “law and religion” is the many different issues that the term encompasses.
The page-view statistics suggest that the hot topics are still sharia (by several miles), same-sex marriage, the relationship between religion and charity law, clergy employment, and religious manifestation and the fallout from Eweida. But we’re still surprised that our post on calling the banns in Scotland has had over a thousand hits: it seems there’s still a niche market for the totally obscure.
What to include (or exclude) is inevitably subjective to some degree; and we sometimes include aspects of legislation and current cases not normally addressed in the literature. So we’re particularly appreciative of comments from those with expertise in those areas, particularly when these result in a guest post. But, principally, we’re grateful to those who’ve followed us thus far.
Father Ted and the church: fact meets fiction
A priest, Fr Despard, suspended over the publication of a book alleging a “gay mafia” in the Scottish Roman Catholic Church, was alleged to have booby-trapped the presbytery, following attempts to evict him. In the words of the bishop “there was some door that once you got it open some sort of liquid or [curry] powder would come down on the person who opened it”. Not the substance of a discarded script from Father Ted’s writers Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan, but a genuine report from The Tablet concerning on-going proceedings in the Hamilton Sheriff Court.
An equally improbable but true story is in the Church Times on the forthcoming cricket match between the Church of England team and the Vatican XI. This has echoes of the “All-Priests Over-75’s Five-a-Side Football Championship”, although the participants are substantially younger than their fictional counterparts, (team average ages: CofE, 36; RC, 28), and the match has a much more serious purpose: to raise awareness of human trafficking and fundraise for the Anglican-Roman Catholic anti-trafficking initiative, the Global Freedom Network. It is to be played at Kent County Cricket Club in Canterbury on 19 September. No forfeits, however.
Then there was the reprise of Pauline McLynn’s role as Mrs Doyle in a series of advertisements for the Inland Revenue, as it then was … which provides a tenuous segue to …
And finally … render unto Caesar?
On Monday The Sun reported that Lin Homer, Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary of HMRC, had issued invitations to a service at Westminster Abbey on 23 September to “recognise the department’s role over hundreds of years in collecting revenue”. The story was subsequently picked up by the Mail (who else?).
Hmm… We don’t suppose the first hymn is likely to be A& M 615:
“He sat to watch o’er customs paid / A man of scorned and hardening trade…”