Religion and law round-up – 5th April

A quiet week for L&R news, but a busy one for choristers and parliamentary candidates

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Religion and hospital food

Frequent travellers often advocate requesting for the “vegetarian option” when choosing airline food as this deemed of better quality than the non-vegetarian alternatives. Now, it seems as though there is a variant of this urban myth with regard to hospital food, where ordering the halal or vegetarian option is a route to more edible fare. However, the Swindon Advertiser reported that a patient at the Great Western Hospital who attempted this ruse was refused halal food because he was “of the wrong religion”, despite having been provided with it on earlier occasions.

The paper clarified that “meals and refreshments at the hospital are provided by external hospitality agency Carillion, who are contracted to provide catering and cleaning services at the site. Carillion is not directly employed by the hospital but by the building’s owner, Semperian, under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract.” With all these taking their cut of the funding, the alleged poor food quality should not be a surprise.

A Carillion spokesman said: “[w]e apologise … for any offence caused. We are working closely with the Trust to ensure all patients receive their preferred choice of meal” and the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said “they will be reminding Carillion and medical staff that discrimination is unacceptable.” We doubt, however, whether this would fall within the ambit of the 2010 Act, and wonder what pastoral assistance a non-Muslim hospital chaplain might be expected to provide.

Religion and cake decoration

The case involving the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and Ashers Bakery, which refused to bake a cake with an image of Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie below the motto Support Gay Marriage, was heard over three days last week at Belfast County Court. DJ Brownlie announced that she was reserving judgment because “It is not a straightforward area of the law”. The Commission, which has a statutory obligation to monitor compliance with the equality laws, had initially asked the bakery to acknowledge that it had breached legislation and offer “modest” damages to the customer.

The case has divided public opinion across Northern Ireland and we await the outcome with interest.

Human rights and the Council of Europe: update

Towards the end of 2014 the Belgian Government announced that during its six-month Chairmanship of the CoE Committee of Ministers it would organise a High-level Conference, under the title “The implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights, our Shared Responsibility”, to adopt a declaration which would including proposals  to improve the execution of judgments of the ECtHR and the effectiveness of its supervision. The Conference duly took place in Brussels on 26-27 March and adopted the Brussels Declaration, together with an accompanying action plan. The Declaration welcomes the results of the ECtHR reform process so far – notably the huge drop in cases pending before the Court – but adds that additional measures are still needed to deal with issues repetitive applications resulting from the non-execution of judgments.

Interestingly, given the Conservative Party’s stance on the need for a “British Bill of Rights” and the UK’s continuing non-compliance with the judgment of the Court on prisoner voting in Hirst and Scoppola, the Declaration includes statements that the Conference:

“(1) Reaffirms the strong attachment of the States Parties to the Convention to the right of individual application;

(2) Reiterates the firm determination of the States Parties to fulfil their primary obligation to ensure that the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention and its protocols are fully secured at national level, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity;…”

Since the Declaration is unanimous and (presumably) represents the views of Her Majesty’s current Government, we await the response of Conservative ministers – but we aren’t holding our breath. The Declaration also “Reaffirms the importance of the accession of the European Union to the Convention and encourages the finalisation of the process at the earliest opportunity”; but that, too, is a long and rocky road.

Crucifixes in Italy – again

The vexed issue of the public display of crucifixes in Italy has surfaced again, this time in Padua. La Repubblica reports that a group of lawyers in Ferrara noticed that there were no longer any crucifixes on the walls of the local courtrooms, except in courtroom F; and they wrote to the President of the Court asking where the disappearing crucifixes had gone and offering to pay for replacements themselves. The Thelocal.it website notes that a Jewish judge, Luigi Tosti, had previously been given a suspended seven-month prison sentence and banned from public office for a year for refusing to preside in a courtroom with a crucifix on the wall: his sentence was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal of Aquila in July 2012.

The problem seems to be that Italy still has a legislative hangover from the time of Mussolini. Lautsi Mark II, perhaps?

Letters to church magazines

This week Archdruid Eileen introduced us [dp] to Letters to the Church Magazine, the monthly letters page available in the Trim Valley Benefice commenting “I quite like the old place. Makes the Beaker Folk look normal.” It certainly does, when we find a link in the Church of England Daily Digest for 30 March to the reports in the Star and Mail that

“a churchwarden at St Bartholomew’s Church in Westhoughton, near Bolton, wrote an article about his wife’s adultery in the parish magazine. The magazine was retracted by the church as soon as they discovered the article, which it says was ‘totally inappropriate’ [surprise, surprise!]. Media sales consultant James said he now ‘regrets the turmoil caused’ but published the article because he wanted to highlight that marriages do break up and cause hurt and that adultery does occur.”

A sneak preview of next week

We’re expecting another relatively quiet week of news, but currently on the stocks are a post about the burial of baptismal fonts – thoughts on a recent case on which the Victorian Society is about to appeal, and a fisking of Scottish Government proposals for reform of burial and cremation law – essential background reading for the Ecclesiastical Law Society’s Conference in Bristol, 17th–19th April.

Quick links

And finally …

By the end of Holy Week, many choristers will have spent almost 24 hours in rehearsals and services and will be looking forward to a traditional “weekend off” on Low Sunday. For others, however, spending time in a church is seen as an adventure, and once again the Churches Conservation Trust is offering “champing holidays”, i.e. camping in the Trust’s churches. Champing is described as:

“the ultimate ‘slow tourism’ escape, with England’s historic churches offering their own unique havens of tranquility, a peaceful night’s sleep interrupted only by the sounds of the natural world, and time to explore the beauty of the surrounding countryside at your own pace by day,”

and is currently offered at: St Cyriac and St Julitta in Swaffham Prior, near Cambridge, at All Saint’s, Aldwincle, Northamptonshire and at St Mary the Virgin in Fordwich, Kent. The price of “each champing adventure” is £60 per person per night, including breakfast, although there is an early bird offer of £45 pppn for all booking made before 1st June 2015.

Perhaps that’s an idea the CofE should take up at its two “snoring” churches, St Andrew, Little Snoring and St Mary, Great Snoring in the diocese of Norwich, both convenient for the shrine of OLW.

[With thanks to Gerry and Rachael Pocklington for a couple of leads in what has been a sparse week for news]

And a Happy Easter / Passover to all our readers…

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