How relevant to the UK is US case-law on religion?


I recently posted a note on Exmoor Coast Boat Cruises Ltd v Revenue & Customs [2014] UKFTT 1103 (TC), which upheld the refusal by HMRC to allow the company’s proprietor and sole shareholder to file its VAT returns on paper instead of electronically, on the grounds that he was not “a practising member of a religious society or order whose beliefs are incompatible with the use of electronic communications”. I contrasted this with the outcome in Blackburn & Anor v Revenue & Customs [2013] UKFTT 525 (TC) in which, as I noted at the time, a husband and wife won the right not to file on-line VAT returns for their beekeeping business after claiming that to do so was contrary to their religious beliefs as Seventh-day Adventists, even though the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not require its members to avoid using electronic communications. My conclusion was that cases such as these are highly fact-sensitive and one cannot simply argue from one set of individual circumstances to another: in passing, the same is true of employment cases.

My note attracted a Tweet to the effect that I had made no mention of Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores Inc 573 US (2014), to which I replied that it was quite hard enough trying to keep up with developments in the UK, the ECtHR and the CJEU without worrying about foreign jurisdictions. But US law is not my starter for ten; and I began to wonder whether my reluctance to engage with it was because the US context is so different from ours as to make it sui generis or whether I was just being bone idle. Continue reading