Religion and Law round-up – 7th December

A bad week for humanists, opposite-sex civil partnerships and the Marriage Pledge – although there was £15M for church roof repairs

Are humanism and atheism “British values”?

At the end of November the Department for Education published its revised advice on Improving the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils: supplementary information, which is intended for independent schools, academies and free schools. In its predecessor advice in 2013 the DfE stated that

“There are many different actions that schools can take to meet this part of the standard, such as: …Use teaching resources from a wide variety of sources to help pupils understand a range of faiths, and beliefs such as atheism and humanism”,

The updated advice contains no reference whatsoever to atheism or humanism; and on the British Humanist Association’s website Andrew Copson wonders about the reason for the change. And so do we.

Humanist marriage

And while we’re on the subject of humanism, on Monday 1 December the Government gave a non-committal response to a question by Lord Harrison, who asked when they intend to publish their response to their consultation on humanist marriage. The Ministry of Justice consultation Marriages by Non-Religious Belief Organisations was launched on 26 June 2014 and ended on 18 September 2014, with a commitment to publish a response by 1st January 2015 at:

Er . . . that’s it.

Opposite-sex civil partnerships?

At the end of its consultation on civil partnerships the Government concluded that there was no demand for opposite-sex civil partnerships and it would not, therefore, introduce them. The Guardian subsequently reported that a couple expecting their first child, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, are to seek judicial review of the refusal to allow them to register a civil partnership, We commented on the case here: the post was updated today to take account of the ECtHR judgment in Vallianatos & Ors v Greece [2013] ECHR (GC) 1110.

Marriage Pledge developments

We and many others have given the Marriage Pledge a substantial level of consideration over the last couple of weeks, but following the initial reaction, it does not seem to be attracting much further support. At the time of writing, the 311 signatories reported on 28 November had only risen to 351: the Marriage Pledge appears to be attracting far fewer signatories than might have been expected. However, Crux reports the results of a survey of 2,000 American adults, the Nashville-based Christian research company which suggested that 1 in 3 Americans “want a divorce between clergy and civil marriages”; and in a parallel survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors, 1 in 4 favoured “separating the religious rites from their signature on a government-issued marriage license that makes the ceremony legally binding”.

Quick links

And finally … but DO they know it’s Christmas?

In his Autumn Statement on Wednesday the Chancellor announced a Listed Places of Worship: Roof Repair Fund: a one-time £15 million fund for repairs to church roofs and rainwater goods.

Great: any money for keeping churches, chapels, synagogues and mosques weatherproof is always welcome – particularly for the C of E, which has 806 of the 887 churches on English Heritage’s latest edition of the At Risk register. But applications have to be with the Fund by midday on Friday 30 January: 36 working days from today (and 35 in Scotland). For those thinking of applying, the dedicated website for the Fund includes an enquiry facility.

Clearly the folks in HM Treasury needed the money to be spent in the current tax year and hadn’t noticed that churches and their congregations tend to be fairly busy doing other things around now: rehearsing Christmas music, organising and holding special services, buying presents, writing cards, visiting distant relatives and even (shock, horror) going on holiday, It’s obviously very different down at Horse Guards Road SW1…

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