“Spiritual influence”, niqabs, burqas, Islamic marriage, breakaway churches and LEGO bricks – the odds and ends of a fairly eventful week…
Undue “spiritual influence”
In February we noted that the elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, had been accused before an Election Court inquiring into his re-election of securing his victory, inter alia, by bringing undue “spiritual influence” to bear on Muslim electors. On Thursday, in what was by far the biggest religion story of the week, he was found guilty, deposed from office, barred from standing in the new election and ordered to pay £250,000 costs. Next week we will publish a further analysis of the current position on “spiritual influence” as clarified by the Election Commissioner, Richard Mawrey QC.
Lord Neuberger and niqabs
The recent speech to the Criminal Justice Alliance by the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, Fairness in the courts: the best we can do, caused considerable media reaction – see, for example, the Telegraph, the Mail and the Guardian – which may have led some readers to draw the erroneous conclusion that the PSC had said that Muslim women should be allowed to wear niqabs while giving evidence.
In fact, that is not what he said; and on 18 April the Supreme Court issued a clarificatory press release as follows:
“Following various media reports based on a lecture he gave last week, Lord Neuberger would like to emphasise that he did not say that Muslim women should be allowed to wear a full-face veil while giving evidence in court. His lecture was aimed at encouraging judges to develop a greater understanding of the perspectives of those less experienced in the criminal justice system, especially when faced with having to give evidence or face cross-examination. Lord Neuberger mentioned a number of examples of cultural and religious views and practices which might lead some people to find such an experience intimidating, but made it clear that the court’s primary duty is to establish the truth and determine cases fairly.”
Another burqa ban?
The Political Commission of the Swiss National Council (the lower house of the Federal Assembly) has voted by 11 to 10 in favour of a ban on covering the face in public or in generally accessible places. The proposal would also forbid anyone from forcing another person (almost certainly female) to cover her face because of her sex. Given the slender majority it remains to see whether the proposal will be taken forward; but the Canton of Ticino already has such a ban.
[With thanks to Dr Georg Neureither for the lead]
A new human rights initiative
Adam Wagner’s new project, RightsInfo, has just gone live. Well worth a visit, not only for the content but because its website makes ours look dowdy in the extreme. And we shouldn’t need to remind you how important the human rights agenda is to religious manifestation: if in doubt see What Human Rights do for Religion & Belief. The 50 Human Rights Cases Everyone Needs to Know About are starting to be revealed one by one, working backwards from #50.
Gender reassignment and children’s birth certificates
In R (JK) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Anor  EWHC 990 (Admin) Hickinbottom J held that, though Article 8 ECHR (private and family life) was engaged, the requirement in the UK’s birth registration system that men who had changed gender from male to female should be listed as the “father” on the birth certificates of their biological children was a justified interference with their Convention rights and was to be upheld.
The case is very much at the margin of “law and religion”: but, for readers who wish to pursue the matter further, Rosalind English has posted a long analysis on UKHRB.
Islamic divorce in South Africa
The South African Independent Online reports that, in what is believe to be an unprecedented ruling, the Durban High Court has awarded interim maintenance to a woman married and divorced purely under Islamic rather than secular law. The plaintiff, who has two children aged 15 and 10, was married under sharia in 2000 but left her husband, the defendant, and moved in with her parents in 2014 because, she alleged, he was having an affair. He then terminated the marriage by pronouncing talaq. The plaintiff said that the defendant had paid nothing towards her or her children; the defendant said that the plaintiff had deserted him and that, under sharia, she was entitled to maintenance for herself for no longer than “the mandatory waiting period of iddah” (or about three months).
Fikile Mokgohloa J is reported as having stated, ex tempore, that the Marriage Act applied to the case. She dismissed the defendant’s claim that the court had no jurisdiction because the marriage was not valid under South African law and ordered him to pay R20,000 [£1,100] a month in maintenance for his wife and children and reasonable educational costs not exceeding R5,000 a month for each child. She also ordered that he contribute R15,000 to the plaintiff’s costs. The case was to proceed to a full hearing.
[With thanks to Howard Friedman for the lead]
In February, the Church Times reported that the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, was seeking clarification about the involvement of the Rt Revd John Ellison, an honorary assistant bishop in the Diocese of Winchester, in a service of commissioning for Christ Church, a new congregation within the Diocese of Salisbury affiliated to the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE), a traditionalist organization widely seen as embryonic breakaway church in England. Although Christ Church describes itself as “Anglican”, it operates outside the Church of England and is one of around a dozen new congregations affiliated to AMiE,
Last week we reported the publication of the GAFCON Communiqué following the meetings of its bishops in London from 13th to 17th April: this stated inter alia
“We support Bishop John Ellison in resisting the unjust and uncharitable charges brought against him by the Bishop of Salisbury, and in view of the Great Commission, we note the sad irony that this former missionary bishop to South America now finds it necessary to defend himself for supporting missionary activity in his own country.”
In an interview with Anglican TV on 17 April, the former Archbishop of Sydney, Dr. Peter Jensen stated the Bishop of Salisbury has delivered a ‘sort of disciplinary note’ to Bishop John Ellison” [at 3:19]. However, no authoritative information is currently available.
Canon law qualifications
On 17 April Archdruid Eileen of the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley posted The Ministers’ Academic Qualifications Usefulness Scale, on which we commented that in 1535 Henry VIII banned the teaching of canon law at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and so at that time it was not a career-enhancing qualification. Evidently there are some who have still their doubts: the newly-designated Roman Catholic Bishop of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, is reported to have told his new diocese “I do have a degree in canon law… but that doesn’t make me a bad person”.
For good or ill, canon law has been taught at Cardiff University since 1991; and the research-led LLM has attracted as students secular and ecclesiastical judges, university academics, barristers, solicitors and clergy from both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches – and both of us. The Centre for Law & Religion at the Law School has now announced a revised scheme and instead of “it’s an LLM or nothing”, there will be a graded series of courses which can be taken progressively: a Postgraduate Certificate, a Postgraduate Diploma and an LLM in Canon Law. Our post Canon law at Cardiff: the new scheme reproduces the text of the flyer covering the new provisions.
Church of England APCMs
For those about to attend their Vestry Meetings for the election of churchwardens under section 4, Churchwardens Measure 2001 and subsequent Annual Parochial Church Meetings under the Synodical Government Measure 1969, the Ecclesiastical Law Society’s Easter 2015 edition of Gospel and Law has provided some useful links to the CofE and Charity Commission web pages: Church Representation Rules on-line; Legal Position of PCC Members; Parishes with no churchwardens or PCC; Change your charity’s details; and Running a charity. The deadline for holding APCMs is 30 April.
[Links to CofE web site updated 16th April 2019]
- University of Trento: Proceedings from “Rights On The Move – Rainbow Families in Europe”, Conference held in Trento on 16-17 October 2014.
- Joshua Rozenberg: Critics of Lord Janner decision misunderstand justice system
- The Guardian: What happens if there’s a hung parliament? Don’t panic – there’s a plan
- Rosalind English, UKHRB: Birth certificate cannot be retrospectively changed to reflect father’s gender reassignment
- Wells Bishops’ Palace: SwanCam The BBC reports “[a] 24-hour infra-red “swan cam” has been launched at the Bishop’s Palace in Wells …a spokesman said the “state-of-the-art” equipment by the moat had been installed just in time to catch the female swan building a new nest. The infra-red capabilities allow night-time viewing.” Not, perhaps, a factor that was considered in Bishop’s Council & Standing Committee of the Diocesan Synod of the Diocese of Bath and Wells v Church Commissioners for England  Committee of the Archbishops’ Council (unreported).
- Daily Telegraph: Meet ‘digital nun’: the very modern Sister funding her monastery through apps Regular readers shouldn’t need reminding. Others should perhaps start reading Dame Catherine’s blog and join her 15,000 Twitter followers.
- iBenedictines: A Gap in the Market for Meaning: Vocations Sunday 2015 Dame Catherine’s own views on recent media interest in religious life, above.
- Eccles and Bosco is saved: The Scottish bishops disaster In the style of William Topaz McGonagall: “’Twas in the year twenty-fifteen, That strange events in Scotland were seen: The Nationalists’ hopes began to burgeon, Because of a bonnie wee lass called Sturgeon …”
And finally … a LEGO consistory court?
Following the example set by Durham Cathedral, on 17 April the first brick was laid in the building of a LEGO cathedral at Chester. Using 350,000 pieces, each of which can be purchased for £1 to be included in the model, it will be 2m in height and 4m in length. It will be split in two so the cathedral’s interior, including its organ, will also be replicated. We trust that it will also include the cathedral’s consistory court – the “only surviving early ecclesiastical courtroom in the country [i.e. England]”.
Since “modern liturgical reforms require flexible settings”, that oft-used phrase in petitions for a faculty, perhaps LEGO is the way forward and the CBC should issue guidance indicating that DACs should recommend its consideration? (Until, that is, someone stands on a couple of LEGO bricks in bare feet…)