Religion and Law round-up – 15th February

The Muslim Council of GB published a fascinating demographic study, the issue of anti-Semitism was in the news again – and yoga didn’t do too well either… 

Muslims in Britain

The Muslim Council of Great Britain has published an extremely interesting piece of research: British Muslims in Numbers A Demographic, Socio-economic and Health profile of Muslims in Britain drawing on the 2011 Census. Billed as “a frank snapshot of the state of British Muslim life based on numbers taken from the 2011 Census”, it is a detailed study of the Muslim population focusing on the demographic, socio-economic, and health profile of Muslims, with commentary, policy observations, conclusions, and areas for further research. Well worth reading.

Islamophobia and denial of entry to the UK

On 5 February the Court of Appeal handed down judgment in R (Geller & Anor) v The Secretary of State for the Home Department [2015] EWCA Civ 45, refusing to overturn the Home Secretary’s decision on 25 June 2013 to deny Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer entry to the UK on the grounds that their exclusion from the UK was conducive to the public good. The pair, co-founders of Stop Islamization of America, were planning to address a rally of the English Defence League in Greenwich on 29 June 2013 – which happened to be Armed Forces Day.

Though Article 10 (expression) ECHR was engaged and Article 11 (peaceful assembly) possibly so, the Home Secretary’s decision to refuse the two admission was neither disproportionate nor irrational. The appeal was dismissed and the decision of the Upper Tribunal to refuse permission to apply for judicial review upheld.

For a full analysis see Critics of Islam prevented from entering UK to attend Lee Rigby rally on UKHRB

Hiring church premises

The Telegraph reports the case of a church in Bristol that has decided that a yoga class may not continue to use its church hall. The priest-in-charge, the Revd James Stevenson, was quoted as saying that “We understand yoga is practised as a physical exercise and discipline but it’s definitely a spiritual act whose roots are not Christ-centred. We are confident we have acted legally and fairly in handling this matter but we understand why the students are upset”.

But is it legal? The legality of banning yoga in church buildings is a frequent query on which we have addressed the underlying issues here and here. Much is dependent upon the individual circumstances, and to our knowledge, the issue of discrimination have not been tested in the courts. Readers will be aware of the ‘Catch-22′ situation that exists: if a court considers that the proposed yoga sessions constitute a religious act of worship, then the Equality Act would not apply; and were if it were not so considered, discrimination on the ground of religion could not be claimed.

In 2002 the Church of England issued guidance on the use of church buildings by “new religious movements” including yoga (but it predates the Equality Act 2010); and some background on the reported case may be gleaned from the church’s web site and that of the yoga instructor.[1]

More s25 Burial Act problems in Leicester

This time not associated with the burial of Richard III, but an article in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere regarding a complaint received by Burbage parish council from a Muslim family at the recent burial of a non-believer in a grave space adjacent to their relative. The complicating factors include: Romany traditions and beliefs of the Islamic faith on burial; the purchase/conditions of sale of graves in the unsegregated, multi-denominational cemetery; and the short notice given by the Council to the family of the objections raised.

However, a Ministry of Justice licence pursuant to s25 Burial Act 1857 is required for any exhumation, whether requested or contested. The MoJ application form is primarily concerned with the consent of close family of the deceased regarding the requested exhumation, and although question 8b requests information on “any person (relative or otherwise) who may object to the proposal to remove the remains”, it does not explicitly seek details of those who wish for the remains to be removed. Although in the case of Richard III, the court held that there was no duty on the Secretary of State to consult, in the present case it would be unusual if the views of all concerned were not taken into consideration.

Under Article 5(6) Local Authorities Cemeteries Order 1977¸ a burial authority may at the request of a particular denomination or religious body prohibit the interring or scattering of cremated human remains in or over a part of the cemetery set apart for their use, the extent to which one denomination may influence the interment of members of another denomination in an unsegregated part of a cemetery is limited, Preston Corporation v Pyke [2].

In the event, a subsequent report in the Telegraph quotes a MoJ spokesperson who confirmed that without the permission of the family, no exhumation could go ahead, except when a corner issues a warrant for an exhumation in the course of a criminal investigation. This article also quotes Dr Sheik Howjat Ramzy, Director of the Oxford Islamic Information Centre and adviser to the Muslim Council of Britain, as saying: “[t]here is nothing in the Koran which says that you have to be buried separately, there are some traditions that in the time of the Prophet it was good to be separated. [Graves] are separated in some Muslim countries but Islamic jurisprudence is different from one country to another and in this country it is allowed.” This, however, does not address the concerns of the Muslim family involved.

It is reassuring, however, that at least the MoJ understands the application of the law in this area. Requiescat In Pace, Shadrack Smith.

Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill

The Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill moved closer to the statute book on Thursday when the Lords gave it a second reading. We reported the debate here.

Are C of E freehold incumbents employees?

During the course of the week the Court of Appeal heard argument in the Church of England’s appeal against the ruling in Sharpe v Worcester Diocesan Board of Finance Ltd & Anor [2013] UKEAT 0243 12 2811.

Church of England Measures

On Thursday the following Measures were given Royal Assent:

Abortion in Ireland

On Tuesday Dáil Éireann declined to give a second reading to the Protection of Life in Pregnancy (Amendment) (Fatal Foetal Abnormalities) Bill 2013 by 104 votes to 20, so the Bill was lost.

An ecclesiastical ASBO?

On Monday the Right Revd Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford, told a press conference that the Diocese of Guildford had taken extremely seriously the reports and complaints regarding the Revd Stephen Sizer (who, reports the BBC, had earlier posted a link to an article entitled “9/11 Israel did it”) both in response to allegedly-offensive materials linked from his Facebook account and to comments he made to the Jewish News and the Daily Telegraph. Bishop Watson noted that the Council of Christians and Jews had stated that “It is perfectly possible to criticize Israeli policies without such criticism being anti-Semitic”; and having met Mr Sizer,

“I do not believe that his motives are anti-Semitic; but I have concluded that, at the very least, he has demonstrated appallingly poor judgment in the material he has chosen to disseminate, particularly via social media, some of which is clearly anti-Semitic.”

He said that Sizer had given him an assurance, in writing, that he would

“refrain entirely from writing or speaking on any theme that relates, either directly or indirectly, to the current situation in the Middle East or to its historical backdrop … and from attendance at or participation in any conferences which promote or are linked to this agenda; from all writing, tweeting, blogging, emailing, preaching and teaching on these themes, whether formally or informally… Should Stephen be deemed by the Diocese to have broken this agreement, in letter or in spirit, he has pledged to offer me his immediate resignation, which I will duly accept. He has also agreed to desist from the use of social media entirely for the next six months, after which he and I will review that prohibition.”

And finally … Hello, SARAH

The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill received Royal Assent on Thursday: it has yet to be commenced. In an accompanying press release Lord Chancellor Grayling said that

“This much needed change to the law will encourage responsible employers to stand up to speculative and opportunistic claims, and will help reassure good deed doers who come to the aid of those in difficulty. This Act restores a balance to counter the health and safety culture, and provides valuable reassurance to people that courts will take full account of the context of their actions if someone is sued after acting in a socially beneficial way … The new law means that judges must consider three additional factors when assessing liability in a negligence claim:

  • If the person being sued was doing something for ‘the benefit of society’ – to take account of the fact people were doing a good deed like volunteering, running an event or trip, or helping out by clearing snow.
  • If they had been acting in a ‘predominantly responsible way’ – to make sure the court will give consideration to the fact that people may have taken care when organising an activity but, in spite of their best efforts, an accident has happened.
  • If they were ‘intervening in an emergency’ – if they stepped in to help someone in danger but something went wrong.”

Well, maybe: but we would tend to agree with Lord Pannick QC, who during the Lords second reading debate on the Bill, described its contents as “not objectionable; they are simply pointless”. We’ll see.


[1] The law is different in Northern Ireland; and example 2 on page 23 of the draft Equality guidance for charities in Northern Ireland which is currently out for consultation reads as follows:

“A church refuses to allow a local yoga group to meet in the church hall as this would conflict with the strongly held beliefs of members of the church. The charity could justify this restriction using the religious and belief exception provided the use of the hall was not being offered on a commercial or rental basis” [emphasis added].

If this were applied to St Michael & All Angels Bishopston, above, the critical word is “offered”, for whilst the premises appear to have been let on a commercial basis, “the last 9 months of [the yoga instructor’s] fees, amounting to nearly £1000”, had been waived by the church.

[2] Preston Corporation v Pyke [1929] 2 Ch. 338.

2 thoughts on “Religion and Law round-up – 15th February

  1. Pingback: Consistory court catch-up, February 2015 | Law & Religion UK

  2. “Readers will be aware of the ‘Catch-22′ situation that exists: if a court considers that the proposed yoga sessions constitute a religious act of worship, then the Equality Act would not apply; and were if it were not so considered, discrimination on the ground of religion could not be claimed”.

    What if the court considers that there was discrimination on the ground of religion because the church wrongly thought that yoga was a religion? There can be inappropriate discrimination, for example, against a person because he is thought to be disabled, when in fact he is not. It is still discrimination.

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