Religion and law round-up – 22nd March

A very mixed bag: charitable status and the Exclusive Brethren, Magna Carta, kirpans at the Cricket World Cup, socialism as a protected belief and naked ramblings – but not by us…

The Charity Commission and the Exclusive Brethren

On Tuesday The Times reported (£) that the Charity Commission had “struck a deal” with the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (aka the Exclusive Brethren). The Times claims it had seen leaked documents that

“… lay bare the extraordinary lobbying campaign waged by the Brethren to win political support and overturn a decision in June 2012 to refuse charitable status to one of its gospel halls”.

According to the report,

“Charity Commission officials were followed to unrelated events by Brethren members, pressured by supportive ministers and MPs and had their offices deluged with more than 3,000 letters from adherents.”

A spokeswoman for the Charity  Commission was subsequently reported by Third Sector (£) to the effect that the Commission’s decision to change its mind and register the PDT had been objective and based on fact:

“We made it clear that we would consider all the evidence now available to us, including evidence of detriment and harm, submitted by those who opposed registration.”

She pointed out that there had not been any appeal against the decision to register the Preston Down Trust and that the Commission had begun its planned review of the charity’s compliance with its governing document.

The accusation that supporters lobbied on behalf of the Exclusives leaves us unmoved. It’s what people do if they want to get a bit of policy changed: sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. But much the more serious allegation in The Times is that five MPs (unnamed) wrote to Tribunal Judge McKenna in an attempt to influence her decision in the Exclusives’ favour and that a spokesman for TJ McKenna had said that she had “made it clear that it was not appropriate to write to a judge during the hearing”. Too damn right it’s not; and if the allegation is true, the five MPs concerned should hang their heads in shame. Have they never heard of the rule of law or the separation of powers? Silly question…

Is “socialism” a protected belief?

On 13 March judgment was handed down in General Municipal and Boilmakers Union v Henderson (Unfair Dismissal) [2015] UKEAT 0073 14 1303, in which it was concluded that, though “left-wing democratic socialist beliefs” might qualify as a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010, there was “no proper evidential or factual basis for concluding” that the claimant had been treated less favourably because of them.

Neil Addison believes that the EAT got it wrong but we aren’t so sure – and we’ll be posting our own analysis tomorrow.

Did she die in vain?

Sir Edward Coke, [1552-1634]

“…  transformed Magna Carta from a somewhat technical catalogue of feudal regulations, into the foundation document of the English constitution, a status which it has enjoyed ever since among the large community of commentators who have never actually read it.”

So said Lord Sumption JSC in a recent lecture to the Friends of the British Library. Unlike some of the politicians who have been lavishing praise on Magna Carta as the foundation of democratic liberties, the rule of law and all stations to the ECHR, Lord Sumption has read it with great care and concludes that much of the hagiography surrounding it is “high-minded tosh” and “the worst kind of ahistorical Whiggism”.

The full text is well worth reading, if only for his wonderful throwaway description of the post-Reformation Church as “a nationalised industry of which the monarch was the non-executive chairman” and his conclusion that Magna Carta’s importance is not as a piece of statute law but for its symbolic significance. But for a taster see Rosalind English’s post on UKHRB.

Meanwhile, in Rhode Island …

… Sir Edward Coke is in further trouble. His words “Non Sub Homine Sed Sub Deo Et Lege” [“Not under man, but under God and law”] which are inscribed above the bench of the Rhode Island Supreme Court are the subject of the recent law suit Gelfuso v Suttell, (D RI, filed 3/4/2015). It is alleged inter alia that this conveys a government endorsement of religion and a particular religious viewpoint with which Plaintiff does not agree. In addition to seeking an injunction against displaying the inscription, the Plaintiff also objects to the court’s continued distribution of an allegedly misleading publication that describes the quote’s history and Lord Coke’s relationship with Rhode Island’s founder Roger Williams.

The complainant alleges: (15) Though the publication portrays Lord Coke as a defender of freedom and equality defying a tyrannical king, Coke had actually been a persecutor of religious and political dissidents in England who had supported the ecclesiastical court of the High Commission and its counterpart the Star Chamber; and (16) While Coke had mentored Roger Williams as a youth, Roger Williams later denounced Coke’s views regarding religious persecution, the separation of church and state, and the Church of England, which eventually led to his own religious persecution and the founding of Rhode Island.

With thanks to Religion Clause

Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill

On 18 March, the Local Government (Religious etc. Observances) Bill completed its report stage and third reading is scheduled for Wednesday, 25 March. We are sure that all “internal drainage boards for districts neither wholly nor partly in Wales” are in eager anticipation of their future treatment as local authorities for the purposes of new sections 138A and 138B of the Local Government Act 1972. The business at their meetings may then include time for prayers or other religious observance: perhaps the singing of “Quelle est cette odeur agréable”?

Cricket, the ICC and kirpans

The New Zealand Herald reports that a group of Sikhs were refused entry to Eden Park to watch India play Zimbabwe in their World Cup match because they were wearing kirpans. Daljit Singh, chairman of the Supreme Sikh Council, said many Sikhs were unhappy with the decision and they were considering legal action against the International Cricket Council:

“We have been told that under NZ law it is legal to carry a kirpan, but this ban is being imposed by the ICC which we feel should follow the law of the land.”

According to the Herald, in a letter of 5 September 2014 Acting Minister of Justice Christopher Finlayson had said that it was lawful to possess a kirpan in public. It might be considered an offensive weapon

“… only if made or altered for use for causing bodily injury [or if] intended to be used to commit an offence involving bodily injury or the threat or fear of violence. In the absence of such a purpose, alteration or intent, mere possession of a kirpan is not an offence.”

But ICC’s spokesman Philip Clark said the Council considered the kirpan to be a knife:

“Our ticketing terms and conditions prohibit entry to the venue of any type of knife … that rule does extend to kirpans … Our no knife, no kirpan policy extends to all games across New Zealand and Australia.”

The Naked Rambler again

The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Europe blog reports that Stephen Gough, aka the Naked Rambler, has applied for his case to be referred to the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR. The Court’s five-judge panel that rules on referrals will be considering his application tomorrow, 23 March. Background here.

Quick links

And finally …

The psalmist had the final word. Having suffered “electronic diary syndrome” and turned up for the Ecclesiastical Law Society lecture a week late, Evensong at Southwark Cathedral proved a well-timed alternative: the appointed Psalm 132 (131) appeared to capture the moment: “Lord remember David … How he sware”.

Or as Archdruid Eileen puts it [see above]: “We English – devoid of spiritual heritage apart from singing psalms in a technique we don’t understand in cold buildings…”

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