Religion and law round up – 14th September


A mixed week in which same-sex marriage and inter-Church cricket were both in the news…

Same-sex marriage and clergy discipline

On Monday it was announced that Jeremy Pemberton, who lost his Permission to Officiate after he married his partner Laurence Cunnington in April, had filed an Equality Act claim in the Employment Tribunal against the Archbishop of York and the acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. Because Canon Pemberton no longer had a licence in that diocese Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust revoked its offer of a post as its chaplaincy and bereavement manager.

The announcement provoked an interesting debate on the Web, principally in Ian Paul’s blog, Psephizo. The whole issue of whether or not any particular cleric is “employed” and who may be sued in such circumstances is extremely complex. Some comments are better-balanced and better-informed than others – but you can judge for yourself.

Scotland, the Constitution and religion

In the margins of the debate in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum next Thursday a group of academics – Tufyal Choudhury, Professor Ian Leigh and Dr Deirdre McCann of Durham Law School and Sir Tom Devine, Professor Emeritus of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh – have produced detailed proposals for the protection of religious freedom in the event of a Scottish Constitution being drafted. In Religious freedom in Scotland: A legal proposal they conclude that any written Constitution:

  • should recognise in the Preamble Scotland’s religious communities and their value to the country as a whole;
  • should explicitly include religious freedom among protected human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  • should  include specific prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief;
  • should recognise freedom of expression, explicitly embracing religious expression;
  • should recognise the family as the fundamental unit of society;
  • should recognise the rights of religious communities to have their children educated in conformity with their beliefs;
  • should protect religious education and include specific support for faith schools; and
  • should include a reasonable accommodation model to ensure that employers and
    workers can agree on how to accommodate the observance and practice of religious beliefs.

The authors further believe that any Constitutional Convention should include faith groups, including representatives of minority faiths and other groups representative of Scotland’s minority communities.

Not, one would have thought, desperately controversial – and it might all be overtaken by events later in the week – but well worth a read.

Sharia-compliant student finance

(One that we missed first time round.) In April 2014 the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills launched a consultation on a sharia-compliant finance product to provide Muslims with an acceptable alternative to interest-bearing student loans, seeking views from the Muslim community and the wider public on the acceptability of an alternative finance product based upon the takaful model.

Responses to the consultation indicated that the fact that student loans issued after September 2012 bear a real rate of interest above inflation has raised concerns that some religious groups, particularly Muslims, may feel that charging such an interest rate is incompatible with their beliefs. Following a positive response to the proposals in the consultation, the Government has now announced that it supports the introduction of a sharia-compliant takaful alternative finance product available to everyone and intends to work on its development.

Roman forts, television-sets and C of E land

On Wednesday 10 September 2014, the Second Church Estates Commissioners, the Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry MP, answered a number of written questions tabled by Ben Bradshaw, (Exeter, Lab), and Helen Goodman, (Bishop Aukland, Lab), [HC Hansard 10 Sep 2014 Vol 585 (36) Col 647W]. Sir Tony informed the House that the Church Commissioners had not purchased any televisions during the specified periods – a) 2013 and (b) 2014 to date, although three televisions have been purchased since 2013 for other departments of the National Church Institutions at an average price of £289. With regard to the criteria for the sale of land near Bishop Auckland, Sir Tony noted that the Church Commissioners are operating an open and transparent marketing and bidding process for the property for sale near Bishop Auckland: the Commissioners’ bidding process leaves no room for undue influence by any interested party. The estate is being offered as a whole or in 10 separate lots: Lot 5 is a working farm and part of the farm includes largely unexcavated parts of the Binchester Roman Fort. With regard to the continued public access to the Roman fort, her reassured the House:

“Binchester Roman Fort is a scheduled ancient monument. It is a criminal offence to disturb a scheduled ancient monument by carrying out works without Scheduled Monument Consent, or causing reckless or deliberate damage to the monument. To offer best protection, public access to the excavated parts of the Fort is managed and controlled in accordance with a Deed of Guardianship with Durham County Council. This means that, as Guardians, Durham County Council must allow access to the site, but are able to do so in such a way as protects and preserves the site for the future. The property will be sold subject to this Deed of Guardianship.”

Now that’s settled, we may all sleep safely in our beds.

Unremarkable and utilitarian buildings and furniture

Moving our reporting of consistory court judgments from the weekly round-up has permitted the inclusion of further comment and background context, and this week’s post Church to burn Union Flags looked at the disposal of a number of flags, banners and other redundant or dilapidated items from a church in South Bersted, which “now lies within the creeping conurbation of Bognor Regis”. In addition to ensuring the proper disposal of these flags (i.e. by incineration) the Chancellor considered that for items such as these which were of negligible financial or other value and could not be considered as “church treasures”, it was not necessary to follow the recommendation of the Court of Arches in Re St Lawrence, Oakley with Wootton St Lawrence that faculties for disposal cases should be heard in open court.  Nevertheless, we did not cover Re St Richard Crowborough [2014] Chichester Const Ct, Mark Hill Ch, an important point of which is that it is used by a “small but vibrant church community”, as is evident from its website.

Re-tuning church bells

Similarly, we noted the Deputy Chancellor’s judgment in Re St Michael Michaelchurch Escley [2014] Hereford Cons Ct, in which he refused to allow the peal to be re-tuned partly on the grounds, inter alia, that those proposing the re-tuning “have an early-eighteenth century sound that they propose to destroy”. Whether he was right or whether he was wrong is arguable – but it’s an interesting point of view.

Burial spaces

We summarised the recent Commons adjournment debate on the provision of burial spaces. No quick fix: but it appears that the Ministry of Justice is again turning its attention to the fact that, in some areas, the shortage of local authority graves is becoming very acute. But the oddest feature of the debate was the revelation that though the London Local Authorities Act 2007 had given London Boroughs power to disturb human remains in a grave where burial rights had been extinguished and where the intention was to increase the space for interments in the grave, no London Borough had yet adopted those powers.

Quick links



And finally…

Much hilarity has been caused by the decision of the organisers of the forthcoming cricket match at the St Lawrence’s ground between an Archbishop of Canterbury’s XI and a Vatican XI to refuse the offer by Michael Claughton, an umpire of 18 years’ experience, to stand in the match. The reason for their refusal is apparently that because Mr Claughton’s great-great-grandfather was successively Bishop of Rochester and of St Albans he might not be “theologically neutral”.

Theologically neutral??? Evidently they just don’t get it. There is cricket and there is theology: and no true cricket-lover is likely to confuse their relative importance or to import the second into the first (though the reverse might not be always the case). Have they never heard of “The Lord’s People at the Lord’s Test on the Lord’s Day”?

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