Religion and Law round-up – 22nd February

Your weekly mash-up of all the law & religion news that’s fit to print – and some that’s not…

The House of Bishops and the General Election

This week saw the publication of what proved to be an unexpectedly-controversial pastoral letter from the Church of England’s House of Bishops – which we duly noted. The letter poses the question “how can we build the kind of society which many people say they want but which is not yet being expressed in the vision of any of the parties?” and expresses the hope that political parties will discern “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be” ahead of the General Election.

The tone of the letter struck us as even-handed and scrupulously non-partisan; nevertheless, it created a media storm. The Telegraph quoted Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, (late of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! – which, sad to say, someone did), to the effect that the Church is “always silent when people are seeking its voice” but “very keen to dive in” when no-one is asking for its opinion. She questioned why the bishops had not spoken out during the “spending frenzy” of the Labour Government: to which the rejoinder came that no less a figure than Archbishop Rowan himself had done precisely that in a Radio 4 interview in 2008 – reported in the Guardian under the headline Brown’s spending plans like ‘addict returning to the drug’, says archbishop.

Archbishop Cranmer – a blog not exactly famous for its trenchantly left-wing opinions – had various reservations about the content of the letter but described the overall reaction from the Right as A confected Tory tantrum. Enjoy. Or possibly weep.

[As a footnote, the Evangelical Alliance has just published the results of its recent survey of the political attitudes of Evangelical Christians.]

The other Bishops’ pastoral letter

This coming Tuesday, 24 February, Cardinal Vincent Nichols will host a press conference to announce that half a million copies of a letter on the 2015 General Election from the Roman Catholic Bishops are to be sent to parishes in England and Wales on 1 March. The letter encourages all Catholics to engage with the election and emphases that it is up to each person how to vote and also that voting should seldom, if ever, be based on a single issue.

“At this General Election we are asked to think about what kind of society we want here at home and abroad. Whom you vote for is a matter for you alone. Our aim is to suggest how you might approach this important question in May 2015 and to suggest some key issues for your reflection as you make your own decision.”

Watch this space.

ECtHR refuses leave to appeal against two religion judgments

The appeals committee of the ECtHR has rejected Government applications for leave to appeal in two recent cases:

  • Mansur Yalçın & Ors v Turkey [2014] ECHR 938, in which the Court held unanimously that the Ministry of Education’s refusal to make adjustments to its mandatory course on religious culture and ethics to accommodate the beliefs of Alevis had violated Article 2 of Protocol No 1 ECHR (education); and
  • Church of Scientology of St Petersburg & Ors v Russia [2014] ECHR 1019, in which it was held that the repeated refusal of the authorities to recognise the Church as a legal entity and register it had violated Article 9 ECHR (thought, conscience, and religion) taken with Article 11 (assembly and association).

The judgments are now final.

[With thanks to ICLRS for the information]

Religion and belief in contemporary Britain

The Woolf Institute’s Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life asked the Centre for Law & Religion at Cardiff if it would like to submit written evidence to its inquiry. Though the time-scale was fairly tight, a group of the usual suspects put something together: you can read it here.

Same-sex marriage and abortion in Ireland

The Irish Government has announced that the referendum on same-sex marriage will be held in May. In his keynote address to the Fine Gael national conference, Taoiseach Enda Kenny appealed to the Irish electorate to vote in favour of the move, as “a powerful signal about the nature of Irish society as we approach the centenary of the 1916 Rising”.

But the referendum on the other burning law & religion issue – the legalisation of abortion in very limited circumstances – is evidently off the agenda until after next year’s General Election. The Irish Examiner reports that the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children is expected to begin hearings on the possibility of legislating for terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality during the summer.

Face-veils and citizenship in Canada

We noted the recent judgment in Ishaq v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) 2015 FC 156 (CanLII), in which the requirement for Muslims like Ms Ishaq to remove their niqab veils in order to swear the oath of citizenship was held to be contrary to paragraph 2(a) (freedom of conscience and religion) and section 15(1) (equality before and under law and equal protection and benefit of law) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We contrasted it favourably with the ECtHR judgments in Mann Singh v France [2008] ECHR 1523 and especially in SAS v France [2014] ECHR 695 – in which the majority of the Grand Chamber simply seemed anxious not to offend the French Government and managed to invent an entirely new doctrine of “living together” as part of the Convention.

But Ishaq is to be appealed: we shall be following the story with great interest.

Top 50 human rights cases

As part of his Human Rights Information Project, Adam Wagner is inviting people to nominate “the 50 human rights cases absolutely everyone needs to know about”. To be eligible for nomination, a case must either have been decided by a UK court or be an ECtHR case that involves the UK or which has had a profound impact on people in the UK – “the cases which you would mention first if you were explaining the importance of human rights to someone who knows nothing about the concept”. Nominations must be e-mailed to by 5 pm on Friday 27 February with the subject heading “50 cases – [your name]”.

Although the project is about human rights generally (and no doubt many of the cases nominated will be ones we’ve never even heard of), several key cases broadly related to “law & religion” immediately come to mind: Tyrer, Campbell and Cosans and ex parte Williamson just for a start. We’re thinking about it.

Quick links

SN06450: e-Petitions. e-petitions will be taking a break on 30 March 2015 as Parliament prepares for the General Election

SN04899: Music in public: copyright licensing. Public performances of recorded music generally require two licences, one from PRS for Music and one from PPL, both of which are summarized in this SN which has updated links to the two relevant web sites. Faith groups might also check the CCLI site.

SN 07108: Religious Slaughter of Animals. Updated in advance of the Westminster Hall Debate, 23 February, on e-petition relating to ending non-stun slaughter to promote animal welfare.

Mixed messages on Ash Wednesday

Aside from the House of Bishops Pastoral Letter, this year the start of Lent attracted widespread interest in the media, with much Twitter comment on the imposition of ashes, following the exhortation “Ashes also come in Fifty Shades of Grey: Take a selfie if you’re gettin’ some, #ashtag”. For some, this posed a dilemma between Matt 6: 1-6 & 16-18 and Matt 5:16, although for others there are more practical implications: Bro Duncan PBGV tweeted “Don’t think They [Dame Catherine Wybourne] approve of all these #ashtag selfies. Something about letting your good deeds be seen by God rather than paraded on Twitter”, adding “Mind you, that could be because Their ashes are scattered on top of Their veils, so not easily photographed”; Also, as any chorister knows, always remove any extraneous ash imposed by an enthusiastic priest before taking off one’s surplice, as this prolongs the time it is next washed until the end of the Triduum. This will not be an issue at King’s College in view of half-term, and the choir will not be there to sing the Allegri until Sunday.

For those “too busy to stop for an Ash Wednesday service”, a group from St Stephen’s House was at Oxford railway station distributing blessed ashes to commuters (what do they teach them at Staggers nowadays?) and a number of churches in the US were participating in the “Ashes and Go” initiative started in 2007 and offering “drive-by ashes” for anyone stopping in their parking lot; the rationale is that for some, this might be a first step back for those who haven’t been to church in years. Other have criticized the move as cheapening the observance that marks the beginning of Lent; from there it’s only a short step to Mexico where people are being encouraged to ash their foreheads with the number 43 as part of a campaign to seek justice for 43 students who went missing in September last year.

For traditionalists needing a reminder of their obligations, Fr Z posted Ash Wednesday, Fasting, Abstaining, and You in which he advocates a common-sense approach to the maxim “Liquidum non frangit ieiunium … liquid does not break the fast”, and its application: i.e. chocolate banana shakes or “smoothies”, etc., are not permissible, but drinks such as coffee and tea seem not break the Lenten fast, although they would break the Eucharistic fast one hour before Communion. However, chewing tobacco does not break the fast (unless one eats the quid(?)), nor does using mouthwash (gargarisatio in one manual) or brushing one’s teeth (pulverisatio).

This year, Ash Wednesday falls on the eve of the day which begins the Year of the Goat (or Sheep, or Ram[1]) in the Chinese calendar, and many bishops in East Asia are reportedly granting dispensations from the fasting and abstinence normally required on that day.

And finally (culled from Twitter) …

From Fred Rodell, ‘Goodbye to Law Reviews’ (1936) 23 Virginia LRev 38:

There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content.


[1] The kanji symbol 羊, yáng may be translated as goat, sheep or ram.

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