Religion and Law round-up – 23rd November

Is it really less than a week since the “bishops’ vote” in General Synod?

Oxford and freedom of speech

The Oxford Student reported on Monday that the Censors (who in other colleges would be called the Deans) at Christ Church had declined to grant permission to Oxford Students For Life to hold a debate in the college on the motion “This House believes that abortion culture harms us all” that had been scheduled for Tuesday. JCR President Louise Revell stated that the Censors’ refusal to grant permission to host the event was that “there was insufficient time between today and tomorrow to address some concerns they had about the meeting”.

In a comment posted on the Oxford Student site Neil Addison suggests that

“The actions of the College would appear to be unlawful and contrary to s 43 Education (No 2) Act 1986. The University (which includes the College) has a legal responsibility to ‘ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers’ By caving in to intimidation the College has failed in its legal as well as its moral duties”.

No comment.

Diversity in the Church of England

Elsewhere in Oxford, the fourth Westminster Faith Debate on Diversity at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, proceeded as planned, although several questioners suggested that the panel appeared to be avoiding conflict. Colin Coward’s blog The core issue for the mutual conversations, provides a useful overview of the themes raised and the challenge facing on “how do we arrive at a place where all of us, which our radically different needs and expectations, all of us are able to stay within and value each other within one church.”

Anglican Mainstream carried the post by Andrew Symes, Oxford Faith Debate: Tragic Drama at St Mary’s, which suggested

“in practice the idea of diversity was undermined by bias: taken together with the other four debates in the series, and including the “provocateurs” who are primed to speak from the audience, mine was one of only two or three genuinely orthodox voices in an overwhelmingly revisionist line up for the series.”

A piece on Psephizo by Ian Paul, The state of the (Westminster) debate, commented on the prior Press Release for the event in the light of Archbishop Welby’s address to the November General Synod and the comments made by the ABC earlier in the year. He concludes

“[t]he task of research, and publicly funded research at that, is to tell us what is—and this can never simply translate into what ought to be, unless (of course) it happens to be overlaid with a particular theological or ideological agenda.”

The views expressed by these and other commentators provide an interesting backdrop against which to listen to the debate, a Podcast of which will be available within the next few days.

Appointment of women to the episcopate: vacant Sees

To (further) misquote Harold Wilson, “a week is a long time in the Church of England”. Following Monday’s vote on which we posted here, the BBC ran an article including the odds at William Hill on the first woman bishop. However, the 2/1 favourite, the Very Rev Jane Hedges, Dean of Norwich, has indicated that she will “definitely not” be putting her name forward for an episcopal position in the near future.

Also on 18 November, it was announced that the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, 67, would retire on 11 July 2015, and the Rt Revd Humphrey Southern, suffragan Bishop of Repton in the Diocese of Derby, 54, had been appointed Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon with effect from 1 April 2015.

And on 20 November, a Press Release from the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the Queen has approved the nomination of the Reverend Canon Martin Alan Seeley for election as Bishop of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Appointment of women to the episcopate: Isle of Man & Channel Islands and priests ordained by women bishops abroad

Monday afternoon’s General Synod concluded with a question and answer session, which included the following procedural qualifications.

Q 46: The Revd Rosalind Rutherford (Winchester) asked the Secretary General: What steps need to be taken to ensure that all the components of the legislative package for Women in the Episcopate will apply fully in the Isle of Man and in all the Channel Islands; and can you confirm that these steps have been taken so that the legislation can come into force on the same day as that on which it is expected to come into force in England (17th Nov 2014)?

Mr William Fittall replied: The legislation that has come into force today in England cannot come into force in the Crown Dependencies until the usual processes involving the civil authorities of those distinct jurisdictions have been completed. In the case of the Isle of Man a draft Measure has been prepared, for consideration by the diocesan synod at the earliest possible opportunity on 13 January, and will then need to be submitted to Tynwald. In the case of the Channel Islands a scheme needs to be drawn up in consultation with the deanery synods of the Islands, communicated to the States General for comment, approved by the General Synod and then confirmed by Order in Council. I understand that process is about to begin but it is a little too soon to predict the timescale.

Q45: Mrs Christina Rees (St Albans) asked the Secretary General: Is there any longer a bar on a man or woman who, having been ordained to the priesthood by a bishop who is a woman in another province of the Anglican Communion or in another Church with which the Church of England is in communion, being given to permission to officiate under the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967, so as to make them then to be as a priest in the Church of England, given a Licence or Permission to Officiate?

Mr William Fittall replied: The decision taken by the Synod this afternoon means that it is now lawful for women to be consecrated as bishops in England. The rationale for the bar which the Archbishops have operated up to now under the 1967 Measure has therefore disappeared. The gender of the consecrating bishop will be no longer relevant when applications for permission to officiate are considered.

[With thanks to Peter Owen of Thinking Anglicans for the lead]

Married priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches

On a related theme, the Vatican has lifted its ban on married Eastern-rite priests ministering in predominantly Latin-rite areas. The Catholic Register reports that Pope Francis approved lifting the ban, which also removes the provision that, in exceptional cases, Eastern Catholic bishops in the diaspora could receive Vatican approval to ordain married men: in recent years, some Eastern Catholic bishops went ahead with such ordinations discreetly without Vatican approval. Some Roman Catholic canon lawyers view this as regularizing this situation whereby the 1929 law, Cum data fuerit was circumvented, and whilst Dr Edward Peters welcomes the move per se, he suggests “the real question here is not so much married clergy (for celibacy, strictly speaking, is surely a disciplinary matter) but rather non-continent married clergy in ministry”.

Islam and freedom of association in Azerbaijan

We noted the ECtHR judgment in Islam-Ittihad Association & Ors v Azerbaijan [2014] ECHR 1220 and wondered whether it was symptomatic of a more general issue about democracy and human rights in the country.

Is voodoo a religion?

We posted on the CJEU’s judgment in Think Schuhwerk v OHMI – Müller (VOODOO) [2014] EUECJ T-50/13 about the propriety of registering “VOODOO” as a Community Trade Mark and, somewhat to our surprise, the post was picked up by the C of E’s Daily Media Digest. But the case does raise once again the fundamental question, “What is a religion?”  and we suspect that the judges of the CJEU might not have read the judgment in R (Hodkin & Anor) v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2013] UKSC 77

Santa Claus and Black Pete

This week we posted on the presence of Zwarte Piet, (“Black Pete”) as the traditional “helper” of St Nicholas in Dutch Sinterklaas parades, and the on-going argument on whether Black Piet insults black people and helps perpetuate racist stereotypes; we concluded that

“… it is unrealistic to shrug off the involvement of law and politics so readily: without local or national leadership, it is difficult to see how ‘the community’ might introduce meaningful changes; and it is possible those opposing Black Pete will follow up on the ruling of the Raad van State and bring the matter before the appropriate domestic court”.

However, a Tweet from Hans-Martien ten Napel said that he did not agree with the comment at the end of the post, and that “the debate damages the case of racism and the UN generally, so I’d rather not add to it””.  Which is something of a pity – and was certainly not our intention.

Public holidays, religion and the law

In our post of 25 July 2014 we considered the issues raised in the Westminster Hall debate on whether Eid and Diwali should be public holidays within the UK. Those who think that there cannot be too many public holidays, whatever the pretext, should consider the position in Iraq where, under a law passed by the Iraqi Parliament in April 2013, there are 150 official vacation days. Al Monitor reports that this has an impact on educational achievement and productivity; government, services and construction sectors are adversely affected.

The large number of holidays reflects the complex social structure in Iraq which comprises many different religious, sectarian and ethnic components, all of whom want to celebrate their own holidays. It has been estimated that Iraq is losing $150 billion per year, equivalent to $1 billion per vacation day, given the high frequency of holidays.

[With thanks to Religion Clause for the lead, and to Google Translate which enabled us to read the original article].

The Marriage Pledge

The Marriage Pledge on the First Things website has been widely circulated and has attracted comment within the United States and elsewhere. Two Anglican clergy are asking others to refuse to perform civil marriages as a response to their concerns regarding the changing government definition of marriage. We posted a comment on the American aspects on Saturday: a further post on the wider implications is yet to come.

Quick Links

And finally . . . .

Fr Z’s Parisian reflections “Yeu arr teking zee pheud pheuteaux wit yeur zmarty pheun!” on the two Michelin-starred French chefs who were reported to be cracking down on customers who take photographs of their food, as Fr Z in wont to do. [Note: do not attempt to use Google Translate].


With regard to General Synod Question Q46 raised by the Revd Rosalind Rutherford concerning the application of the new legislation to Isle of Man & Channel Islands, Thinking Anglicans includes the following update:

Rosalind Rutherford asked a supplementary question: I think many members will think it’s regrettable it’s not possible to give a specific date for the Channel Islands, but could you assure Synod that active and practical encouragement will be given to those responsible for the process to ensure that it will take significantly less time than the extra six years it took the 1992 Measure to be applied in the Islands.

Mr Fittall replied: Well we have just broken the land speed record in getting the legislation through the Ecclesiastical Committee in about eight days and through the two Houses of Parliament very speedily after the recess. In relation to the civil authorities in the Channel Islands it would be very good if we could similarly create a new record, but I am afraid I cannot guarantee because that is not ultimately in my hands or indeed in the hands of the General Synod.

The Bishop of Dover asked:  Would the Secretary General find it helpful to know that letters have gone to the deaneries of Jersey and Guernsey to actually start the process already?

Mr Fittall replied: That is very encouraging