Religion and law round-up – 9th August

With the domestic courts adjourned for the summer, a quiet week in the UK – so what follows is mostly news from elsewhere 

Sunday trading

On 5 August, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Communities and Local Government launched their Consultation on devolving Sunday trading rules. We posted about the consultation and about the initial reactions which reflect long-held views of the bodies concerned, and would therefore not be surprised if the draft of the government’s response to the Consultation had already been written.

Safeguarding and the Goddard Inquiry

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales, chaired (after a couple of false starts) by Justice Lowell Goddard of the New Zealand High Court, is now properly under way. Maria Strauss kindly provided a guest post on the terms of reference and operation of the Inquiry and, in particular, how it is likely to impact on religious groups. And while we’re on the subject of historic sexual abuse…

… Jehovah’s Witnesses and child protection in Australia

The Australian Associated Press reports that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that they have recorded more than one child abuse allegation every month but in 60 years have never reported them to police. The Commission was also told that the Jehovah’s Witness process was based on the biblical rule that wrongdoing was only proven when there were two witnesses and that they expected the abuse victim to confront the abuser.

The head of the service desk at the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Australia, Rodney Spinks, acknowledged that they dealt with matters internally and did not encourage reporting to police but have an undertaking that, in future, they would comply with mandatory reporting obligations when they learn about sexual abuse of children in their congregations.

How public-spirited of them to agree to comply with the law…

Same-sex unions in the Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands are rather outside our normal patch; but it is a British Overseas Territory and its Human Rights Commission has urged the Cayman Islands Government to give legal recognition and protection to same-sex unions. According to the local Cayman Reporter, there is concern that the Islands could be compelled, rather against local sentiment, to bring in the necessary legislation.

The FCO is quoted as follows:

“The UK strongly supports equal treatment for LGBT people and works to promote tolerance and non-discrimination of LGBT people across the world. The UK encourages the Cayman Islands government to adhere to its international human rights obligations”.

Further, the UK Government

“is responsible for ensuring the compliance of the Cayman Islands with its international human rights obligations, including the ECHR. The UK government seeks to ensure that all Overseas Territories act in accordance with their international human rights obligations and encourages all British Overseas Territories to pursue policies and, where appropriate, enact legislation, guaranteeing LGBT rights and freedom from discrimination”.

Responsibility is the key. Should the matter ever get as far as Strasbourg the respondent won’t be the Cayman Islands: HMG will have to carry the can. It sounds to us suspiciously like responsibility without power…

With thanks to ICLRS for the lead.

Class action for automatic elevator and non-electronic door key

In an earlier post Not a lot of people know that… we noted a BBC news item which said:

“Sometimes the reasons for a non-responsive button [at a pedestrian crossing] are not traffic-related. In 2012 Transport for London, (TfL), changed the pedestrian setting at Henlys Corner in north London after discussions with the Jewish community. [The Kinloss Finchley Synagogue is located to the north of the junction.] Orthodox Jews are not allowed to operate electronic machinery on the Sabbath. The change means that from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday the pedestrian crossing operates on an automated programme rather than via pressing the button.”

Similar circumstances in the Queens District of New York have resulted in the class action religious discrimination lawsuit Ibragimov v Lefrak Organization, Inc., (ED NY, filed 23 July 2015), filed in federal district court in New York last month by Orthodox Jewish tenants in LeFrak City, a 20-building housing complex housing over 14,000 people.  The Fair Housing Act suit claims that the electronic key system that has been installed in the renovations of the 1960s buildings complex creates problems for Sabbath observance: it seeks to require installation of one door in each building that opens with a conventional key and also the installation of a chip that allows an elevator in each building to operate as a Sabbath elevator – by stopping automatically at each of the 16 floors without riders needing to press buttons.

With thanks to Religion Clause for the lead.

Conscientious objection to military service – again

The Cyprus Mail reports that on Wednesday the ECtHR accepted the petition of conscientious objector Murat Kanatli, a resident of Northern Cyprus, who was jailed for  not reporting for duty as a military reservist. Mr Kanatli, who has refused to join the reservists since 2009, filed the petition on July 6. He filed against Turkey because in international law Northern Cyprus is regarded as a Turkish sub-administration. His petition, No 18382/2015, argues that the refusal to accept objection on grounds of conscience violates Articles 5 (liberty and security), 6 (fair trial) and 9 (thought, conscience and religion) ECHR.

Many readers will no doubt recall Bayatyan v Armenia [2011] ECHR 1095, in which the Grand Chamber held that the conviction and imprisonment of a Jehovah’s Witness for refusing to serve violated his Article 9 rights: though Article 9 did not explicitly refer to a right of conscientious objection on grounds of religion or belief, opposition to military service motivated by conscience or by a genuinely-held religious or other belief was of sufficient cogency, seriousness and importance to engage its provisions. And the Court has been relying on that authority ever since.

Quick links

  • Sunday Express: RIP…until you move home: Brits taking dead relatives with them: thoughtful piece by Caroline Wheeler on the increasing trendIMG_1933(3) for people to seek exhumation of buried relatives when they move house, with a statement by Timothy Briden, Vicar-General of the Province of Canterbury and Chancellor of Bath and Wells, on the Church of England’s  position on the permanence of burial. Nevertheless, there is little in the article that will be a surprise to L&RUK readers: Timothy Briden’s quote is recycled from a Telegraph article in 2001, and the fact that exhumations should “only exceptionally be granted” dates from Bishop Christopher Hill’s note on the theology of burial to the Court of Arches in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 29 hardly a recent “clamping down” on the practice. There is probably more (sensational and ill-informed) mileage to be gained from the repeated refusal of exhumation requests where disabled pensioners have poor access to graves of relatives.
  • London Review of Books: The Right to Die: Retired Lord Justice of Appeal Sir Stephen Sedley speculates on the likely progress (or otherwise) of Rob Marris’s Assisted Dying Bill.
  • Solicitors Journal: Can the courts promote gay marriage and religious liberty?: The 4 August issues carries a piece by Mark Hill in which he discusses the public sector equality duty and reasonable accommodation of sexual and religious identity, concluding that “it will be interesting to see how central and local government seeks to promote and safeguard both sexual and religious identity. If the plea for pragmatism goes unheeded, the Administrative Court will be quite a lot busier in the years ahead”.
  • Eccles and Bosco: I’m a Catholic – get me out of here! Eccles muses on the news in the Catholic Herald that Pope Francis sent a special apostolic blessing to Declan “Dec” Donnelly on his wedding day, and how such a programme might be good practice for the Extraordinary Synod in October. [His Holiness had earlier stated that he has not watched television since 1990!].

And finally…

The Express carried a story, Blue Moon ahead of rare Blood tetrad means world WILL end in September, warn Christians, that was bizarre even by the standards of American Bible-belt religion. Apparently “Prophecisor” Pastor Paul Begley and his fellow preachers are warning that the rare “blue moon” happening in the run-up to the date of the last of four “blood moons” over the past 18 months, due to occur on 28 September – and following a papal visit to the US – will signal the second coming of Jesus before Armageddon.

The technical term in English ecclesiastical law for this kind of stuff is “utter bollocks”. It’s difficult to know whether one should laugh uproariously or just weep; but those of an Anglican or Quaker disposition may take comfort from the liturgy recently announced by Archdruid Eileen in relation to Blue Moon Celebration.

6 thoughts on “Religion and law round-up – 9th August

  1. And Finally…. The really terrifying thing about “Prophecisor” Pastor Paul Begley and his (literally) lunatic ideas is that in the most powerful military nation on earth these people exercise real influence over the political class. Was not George the Second Bush a “born again” southern state Christian?

  2. An e-mail comment from Michael Ainsworth:

    “Though this stuff strikes most people as plain daft, its minutiae have greatly exercised rabbinic scholars, and it is worth further reflection from those beyond that tradition:

    1. The automatic pedestrian crossing setting disadvantages other people (unlike the north London eruv)
    2. As do Shabbat lifts (as we discovered on a trip to Jerusalem) – though cf the non-stop paternoster lift in Sheffield University arts tower which I once unwittingly brought to a halt with my cello
    3. Although there is a long tradition of employing non-Jews to do sabbath ‘work’ (turning on lights, lighting fires), which some of my congregation in East London were involved in, it is surely not very rabbinic for attendance at synagogue to depend on the happenstance of somebody else pushing the button to summon the lift, as one of the NY plaintiffs states (or is that what the parable of the good Samaritan is challenging?) [cf, though not terribly germanely, Offences Against the Person Act 1861 on impeding a cleric en route to conduct divine worship]
    4. The more philosophical point: it is surely disingenuous to restrict use of electronic devices only to those where there is active sabbath engagement, by pushing a button or swiping a card, since there is a vast array of electronic devices operating in real time, including those that orthodox Jews may have specifically programmed to function for them on the sabbath, as well as those that serve to protect or monitor or indeed convict people generally, on which we all depend.
    5. cf, of course, the Wee Wee Frees, whose website is closed on Sundays though presumably this link doesn’t work the rest of the week.”

    • Michael Ainsworth’s comments raise a number of thoughts, on which my main experience is in the use of the Sheffield Arts Tower Paternoster, [though I did not even attempt to use it when carrying a guitar, let alone a cello].

      I could not resist checking the operation of the web site of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, yesterday and today – and yes, it does operate as suggested.

      With regard to the rights and wrongs of using Shabbat lifts, “the minutiae [that have] greatly exercised rabbinic scholars” are readily apparent from a quick Google search, and are clearly for consideration by experts in the area rather than ourselves. However, returning to the pedestrian crossing at Henly’s corner, this is also the site of a Holiday Inn Express, which takes these issues into consideration, offering a full range of Shabbat facilities- Keys, Shabbat Lamps, Shabbat Lifts &c.

    • Thanks for the explanation, Doug, for which a re-reading of the citation quoted in the Catholic Herald now becomes clear: “The Holy Father Francis cordially imports the requested apostolic blessing to Declan Donnelly and Alison Astall on the occasion of their marriage and through the intercession of the Virgin Mary invokes an abundance of divine graces,” i.e. an apostolic blessing is response to a request made on behalf of the recipient and may be sought in relation to a number of occasions.

      As with Michael Ainsworth’s comments on Shabbat lifts and automatic pedestrian crossings, above, this is an area outside our experience on which we are grateful for clarification.

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