Religion and law round-up – 2nd August

Not much hard law this week (apart from a case we can’t find) but quite a bit of speculation about an initiation rite for transgender people and a possible accidental ban on incense…

Autopsy and religion

Earlier this week, in the Administrative Court, Mitting J ruled in Charles Rotsztein v HM Senior Coroner for Inner London [2015] that where there was an “established religious tenet” against an invasive autopsy, it should be avoided so long as there was a “realistic possibility” that a non-invasive autopsy, such as a CT scan or blood culture, would establish cause of death. However, coroners must still be able to fulfil the legal obligation to establish cause of death to the best of their ability and the non-invasive procedures should be done “without imposing an additional cost burden on the coroner”.

The judgment was delivered orally. If and when we see a copy of the judgment we shall post a summary.

Incense as an illegal high?

We posted on the concern expressed by Baroness Hamwee in the recent House of Lords debate that one (presumably unintended) effect of the Psychoactive Substances Bill might be to make the use of incense in churches illegal.

Before the Commons rose for the summer adjournment, the Home Affairs Committee announced a short inquiry into “New psychoactive substances” which will inform debates on the Bill in the Commons, due to start in the autumn. Anyone likely to be affected by the Bill as it stands is strongly advised to make a written submission advocating the inclusion of a specific exemption for the liturgical use of incense in Schedule 1 to the Bill.

A liturgy for gender transition?

This week the BBC reported that the Vicar of Lancaster, The Revd Chris Newlands, has tabled a Motion in General Synod as follows:


…to move on behalf of the Blackburn Diocesan Synod:

That this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.”

Almost inevitably, the proposal has provoked mixed reactions. Susie Leafe, director of the Anglican Evangelical pressure-group Reform, was reported as saying that “The Bible gives us the notion that there is one baptism, so the idea of ‘re-baptising’ people is certainly something that would go against a lot of the deep theology of the Church and would be confusing.” Indeed: and there was a case some years ago in which a parish minister in the Church of Scotland was “born again” and got so carried away by the experience that he had himself baptised by total immersion – with the result that he was deposed from ministry by the General Assembly on the grounds that “second baptism” was fundamentally contrary to the doctrine and discipline of the Kirk.

But the Motion from Blackburn does not appear to be proposing “second baptism” at all: merely some kind of liturgy to affirm and welcome the person in his or her new gender. Whether or not Synod will debate it remains to be seen: watch this space.

In his blog The Affirmation of a Transgender Person, Kelvin Holdsworth comments that in Scotland there is already an agreed form of service that could be used as an affirmation for transgender people.

Report on chrism masses in the C of E from the Independent Reviewer

Sir Philip Mawer, the Independent Reviewer appointed by the Archbishops in relation to resolving disputes arising from the operation of the House of Bishops’ Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests (GS Misc 1076), has issued his first report, on a complaint by Hilary Cotton, Chair of Women and the Church (‘WATCH’) about the fact that a number of chrism masses were to be held in 2015 at which bishops of the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda would preside. Sir Philip concludes that the masses are not in themselves a breach of the principles set out in the House of Bishops’ Declaration:

“Rather they are a consequence of the underlying division and of the pastoral arrangements the Church has thought it right to make for those who hold the minority view. Provided the masses continue themselves to be conducted within the spirit of the Five Principles, with due sensitivity to the feeling of others, and with full regard to the lawful authority of the relevant diocesan bishop” [42].

Medics, dentists, examinations and hijabs

This year’s All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT), which was scheduled to be held on 3 May, had to be cancelled and rescheduled for 25 July after reports that the question paper had been leaked. Subsequently, the Central Board of Secondary Education ruled that any items of clothing that might give candidates a way to cheat, such as belts, scarves, and caps, would not be allowed inside the examination hall: it also the candidates to wear light clothes with half sleeves and open footwear. However, the Kerala High Court ruled to allow two Muslim girls to wear headscarves and full-sleeve dresses for the 25 July exam on the basis that an invigilator could frisk them if required; and the Students Islamic Organisation of India subsequently petitioned the Supreme Court of India to have the ban overturned, arguing that it would prevent Muslim students from adhering to their religious principles.

On 24 July the Supreme Court refused to interfere. According to reports, Dattu CJ told the counsel for the petitioner, “On a day when you have to sit for an exam, you are being asked not to wear it. Your faith won’t disappear if you appear for the exam without a scarf”, adding that it was a “small issue” and not one in which the Supreme Court needed to interfere. The overriding issue was the integrity of the exam:

“There were serious problems and we ordered for re-conducting the exam. Now the exam has to be held properly. What if everyone wears a scarf or something else and claims it to be a religious practice? Can an examiner start inquiring into everybody’s faith?”

An alternative point of view was put by Cardinal Baselios mar Cleemis, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and Archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram, who questioned whether the authorities were “targeting religious symbols or exam malpractices”. The Tablet reports that a young Catholic nun was prevented from taking the national medical exam after she refused to remove her cross and veil, and a Muslim girl in northern Uttar Pradesh also preferred to miss the exam instead of removing her headscarf. However, in Punjab several Sikh youths reluctantly abandoned their kirpans and kara bangles to enter the exam hall.

Quick links

And finally…

The accidental discovery of the week was the Supreme Court Haiku Reporter – which does for SCOTUS judgments precisely what it says on the tin. Maybe someone might be tempted to do likewise for the UKSC – but it won’t be us.


This was the week in which we reached 1,000 posts – our thanks to all those who offered their congratulations.

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