Religion and Law round-up – 18th January

Reflections on a week in which the Lords debated assisted dying and chancel repairs, the C of E published a “programme for reform and renewal”, SCOTUS decided to hear argument on same-sex marriage – and a court took pity on a cleric faced with disqualification from driving…

Reform and renewal in the C of E

On 12 January, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote to members of the Church of England’s General Synod proposing a “programme for reform and renewal” for the church, outlined in their statement “In Each Generation”: A programme for reform and renewal. This preceded the publication of a series of documents proposing reforms to be published on the Church’s website this week ahead of the meeting of the General Synod, 10 to 12 February.

Due to the range and volume of material being issued in relation to the various Task Group reports, there was a daily release of key documents this week ahead of the general distribution of papers on Friday 16 January. These have included:

The Simplification Group addressed the constraints to the mission and growth of the Church of England as a consequence of its canons, legislation, regulations and procedures and on Thursday we posted a summary of the Report and its 19 key for simplification and deregulation.

The agenda and papers for the February Synod are available here.

Assisted Dying Bill

On Friday the Lords considered Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill in Committee for the second day. Peers voted by 180 to 107 against changing the wording of the Bill from “assisted dying” to “assisted suicide”; and an amendment proposed by Lord Carlile of Berriew to put restrictions on the range of doctors with whom a patient wishing to end his or her own life could consult was also defeated  by 119 to 61.

Given that time for private Members’ business has now run out and the Bill still has to finish its Lords stages then start all over in the Commons, Lord Falconer admitted that it was unlikely to become law in the present Parliament. But no doubt he or someone else will introduce a similar Bill after the forthcoming General Election.

Who’s about to shoot JR?

No prizes for the answer. However, on Tuesday Lord Chancellor Grayling offered a small concession on his proposals to reform judicial review [see Commons Hansard 13 Jan 2015 col 810]:

“We have tabled an amendment providing for an exception such that the challenge can continue or a remedy can be awarded where the court considers it appropriate because the matters at hand are of exceptional public interest. I … want to be clear that it needs to be an exceptional public interest and it must be quite clear to the court that the issues in question are exceptional. We think it right that a high public interest test should be passed before the exception is activated and taxpayer-funded resources are used on a judicial review that might be academic in relation to the applicant. Equally, we think it is right for the judges to wdefine how that exception will operate in practice and to decide in which cases it is right to certify, but if they are to do that, they should certify formally and explain their reasons. It should not simply be a matter of a judge deciding to do it; there should be a requirement to certify that the test has been met and to state why it is has been met”.

Which means, presumably, that in future there will simply be lots of wrangling about whether or not a challenge is “exceptional”. John Hyde duly gives Grayling’s concession a good kicking in the Law Society Gazette.

St Cyriac, Lacock – update

Those who remember our post last year on Re St Cyriac Lacock [2013] Bristol Cons Ct, Justin Gau Ch. may be interested to learn that following the Faculty judgment which authorized the sale of the 15th century silver chalice (“the Lacock Cup”) to the British Museum, the £1.3M medieval chalice has been on permanent display at the museum and from 31 January will begin a tour of England, beginning at the Salisbury Museum.

Chancel repair liability – again

On Thursday the House of Lords held a short debate in Grand Committee on chancel repair liability, initiated by Lord Avebury (LD). We shall post a summary tomorrow.

Persecuted Christians?

On Saturday the Telegraph reported that a nurse, Miss Victoria Wasteney, who describes herself as a ‘born-again Christian’ is bringing a claim for wrongful dismissal against East London NHS Foundation Trust, claiming it had discriminated against her on grounds of religion and infringed her Convention rights. Part of her allegation is that she prayed with a troubled Muslim colleague and the NHS Trust interpreted her action as “harassment and bullying”. Her case is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, which has instructed Paul Diamond on her behalf.

In contrast, also on Saturday The Spectator carried an interview with the Archbishop of York. It’s worth reading in full; but for us the most telling point was his summary dismissal of the complaint that Christians in the UK are somehow “persecuted”:

“I lived in Uganda during the time of Idi Amin … and our archbishop was murdered by Idi Amin. I had to get out of Uganda because I had opposed Amin on a number of things which I didn’t think were ethically right… I know what persecution looks like. What is happening at the moment in England, it ain’t persecution.”

Westminster Faith Debates 2015

The theme for the Westminster Faith Debates 2015 is Religion, Violence and Cohesion, which will consider:

  • “RE for Real: A consultation on Religious Education” (4 February, Birmingham);
  • “How far should concern with religious freedom shape foreign policy?” (6 February, London);
  • “Faith and Politics – Where’s the conscience of the nation?” (11 March, London);
  • “Women Bishops – What difference does it make?” (26 May London);
  • “Social Cohesion – Lessons from the Pennines” (10 June, Bradford); and
  • “What should we do about radicalisation?” (1 July, Whitehall).

Further details here.

Same-sex marriage and the US Supreme Court

As regular readers will know, we seldom stray into matters of US domestic law (here’s why); however, we could not let go unremarked the news that the US Supreme Court has granted writs for certiorari in Bourke et al v Beshear, Gov. of Kentucky et al. Argument is to be limited to the following questions: 1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment [on “the equal protection of the laws”] require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? 2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

For further discussion, see Lyle Denniston on the SCOTUSblog.

New blog: Law and Religion Australia

On New Year’s Day our good friend Neil Foster, of Newcastle Law School, New SouthOz flag Wales, launched Law and Religion Australia, which aims to cover similar ground as we do on L&RUK: primarily domestic but ranging more widely if he finds something overseas worth blogging about. This week’s posts include: Vaccination and religious freedom concerning the decision of the Second Circuit of the US Court of Appeals in Phillips v City of New York (DN 14-2156-cv, 7 Jan 2015); and Churches meeting in public schools in which Neil provides an update of the developments on a dispute concern New York public schools, reviewed in an  earlier paper.

So, welcome to the blogosphere: and do go and have a look.

10 chapels + 9 penalty points = no driving ban

The Powys County Times reported that the Rev Tudor Rowlands had pleaded guilty at Welshpool Court to driving at 40 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour area in Talybont on 10 May 2014. Although 74, he has been working part-time for the last four years and was in charge of 10 chapels: this involves travelling over large areas of countryside to visit and preach to people in their homes; and during the last three years he had accrued 9 penalty points on his licence for speeding offences. Although he admitted that he would not lose his job or his home as a result of the disqualification, magistrates accepted his argument of exceptional hardship since a driving ban would affect the ‘spiritual health of communities’ if he couldn’t reach elderly people who cannot get to church.

Subsequently, a correspondent to Thursday’s edition of The Times (£) suggested that Mr Rowlands should have pleaded s 36 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which creates the offence of “obstructing or assaulting a clergyman or other minister in the discharge of his duties” and said that in the 1970s his own father had used the ploy on a “bemused constable”. Which was very smart of him: but that section begins:

“Whosoever shall, by threats or force, obstruct or prevent or endeavour to obstruct or prevent, any clergyman or other minister in or from celebrating divine service or otherwise officiating in any church, chapel, meeting house, or other place of divine worship…” [our italics].

So is a policeman who stops someone for speeding using “threats or force” in contravention of that section? We don’t think so – it’s more likely an example of merda taurorum animas conturbit.

And finally…

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