Religion and law round-up – 20th September

A week in which we had the first hints of possible registration for religion, confusion about the next Lambeth Conference and a certain degree of reassurance that incense is not a “legal high”

Registering “faith leaders”?

Last Sunday The Telegraph carried a report by Andrew Gilligan of a leaked draft of the Home Office’s new counter-extremism strategy which suggested that it would set up a “national register of faith leaders”, who would be subject to government-specified training and security checks. According to the report,

“The strategy … says that Whitehall will ‘require all faiths to maintain a national register of faith leaders’ and the Government will ‘set out the minimum level of training and checks’ faith leaders must have to join the new register. Registration will be compulsory for all faith leaders who wish to work with the public sector, including universities … In practice, most faith leaders have some dealings with the public sector and the requirement will cover the great majority. The move marks a significant deepening of the state’s involvement in religion and is likely to be resisted by many religious representatives.”

The Telegraph reports a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church as saying that the Church had not been consulted on the proposals and that “other senior Catholic sources” had said that any plan for state supervision of priests would be “firmly resisted”.

Whether or not any of this turns into actual proposals for legislation remains to be seen: but it does prompt the question, at least in our minds, “Exactly what is a faith leader”? A bishop? – presumably “yes”. But the leader of a house-church in a village in the Midlands? The Clerk of a Quaker Local Meeting? Hmm. (As to the latter, the same thought has evidently occurred to Cranmer.)

Equal civil partnerships

Charles Keidan and Rebecca Seinfeld have announced that their judicial review hearing has been set down for 19 and 20 January 2016. They are seeking a review of the refusal of the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to allow them to register an opposite-sex civil partnership, on the grounds that the decision was unfair and discriminatory.

Lambeth Conference 2019 (or 2020)?

On 16 September, Lambeth Palace issued a Press Release linking to the letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Primates within the Anglican Communion, inviting them to discuss key issues face to face, including a review of the structures of the Anglican Communion, and to decide together their approach to the next Lambeth Conference. The proposed dates for the meeting are 11-16 January 2016.

In general, reaction in the secular and religious press has been conditioned by whether the commentator views the demise of the Anglican Communion as a good or a bad thing, rather than any objective analysis of the issues to be faced. Useful links to the wide range of views expressed have been produced by Anglican Mainstream and Thinking Anglicans. On the day following the announcement, a debate took place in the House of Lords on a Motion to Take Note on LGBTI Citizens Worldwide in which Lord Harris of Pentregarth, former Bishop of Oxford, observed [Col 2035]

“It is no secret that the Anglican Communion has become very frayed at the edges on this issue. That is what I wrote in the first draft of this speech, but from what we read on the front page of some papers today, ‘frayed’ is much too weak a word. The churches in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda are taking a very conservative and hard line and see themselves as quite apart from churches in North America.

Nor is that the sum of it: the frontier of the culture wars in the USA has moved to Africa, with conservative forces in America lining up with and reinforcing the conservative forces in some African countries … Indeed there is evidence, which the Human Dignity Trust has on film, of some American churches actively proselytising in Uganda with a view to strengthening hard-line attitudes to gay and lesbian people.”

A fuller report of the debate will be included in a future post.

Reform of marriage annulment laws

In the previous round-up we reported that the Holy See Press Office had issued two letters Motu proprio by Pope Francis: “Mitis ludex Dominus Iesus (The Lord Jesus, the Meek Judge)” and “Mitis et misericors Iesus (The Meek and Merciful Jesus)” relating to the reform of canonical procedure for the annulment of marriage in the Code of Canon Law (CIC) and the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches (CCEO) respectively. These were reported in the secular media with varying degrees of accuracy; but within the Roman Catholic canon law community there seems to be a growing consensus concerning the problematic nature of these documents and the issues that need to be addressed before the legislative changes are made.

Psychoactive Substances Bill update

Our Friday post updated the progress of the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into psychoactive substances, following the closure of the consultation period and two oral evidence sessions. In response to a question from Keith Vaz, Chair of the Committee, the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice and Victims, Home Office, the Rt Hon Mike Penning MP, indicated that his department was working on a list of legal and harmless substances that are exempt from the Bill, which would be published before the Commons second reading debate in November. In addition to legal and harmless substances, clause 10 empowers the Secretary of State to make Regulations to exempt prescribed activities in specific circumstances or if specific conditions are met.

There is clearly a long way to go before the attention of the authorities turns to the liturgical use of incense, not least the inability to prove psychoactivity in a court of law, “which is pretty fundamental to a Bill that seeks to ban psychoactive substances” … “Just to say that a psychoactive substance is something that causes psychoactivity in human beings is really not adequate.”

Commander Simon Bray, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on psychoactive substances, told the Committee “[the Bill] does not apply to possession, an offence of mere possession in the first instance.” Strictly, the Bill identifies the offence of “possession of a psychoactive substance with intent to supply” – though if incense were a psychoactive substance within the terms of the Bill that would presumably catch both manufacturers (who supply it to churches and others) and clergy who keep it in the vestry for use on Sunday mornings (when they “supply” it to the congregation from a thurible.) But, as we have said before, we’re talking unintended consequences; and we cannot imagine that the Government intends to make the use of incense in worship illegal.

Volunteers and employment rights

In X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau & Anor [2012] UKSC 59 the Supreme Court decided that the Directive establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation (2000/78/EC) ”does not cover voluntary activity” and that volunteers do not have employment rights: we posted about the judgment at the time. However, in answer to a parliamentary question from MEP Emma McClarkin (European Conservatives and Reformists Group, UK) asking the Commission to clarify what constitutes a “volunteer”, Commissioner Thyssen (Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility) replied on behalf of the Commission as follows:

“There is no definition at Union level of a cross-border volunteer. On the other hand, in relation to the definition of a worker in the context of freedom of movement of workers, the CJEU on several occasions underlined that the term ‘worker’ has a meaning in the Union law and cannot be subject to national definitions or be interpreted restrictively. It covers any person who undertakes genuine and effective work for which he/she is paid under the direction of someone else. It is the responsibility of the national authorities to undertake, in the light of that definition, a case-by-case evaluation to establish whether those criteria are met. In this context, limited income does not prevent a person from being considered a worker, and benefits in kind are also considered as remuneration. Therefore a volunteer who meets the above criteria could be considered as a worker under the Union law. Only voluntary work without any form of remuneration is excluded from the scope of the Union legislation on free movement of workers.” [P-011992/2015: 17.9.2015: emphasis added]

The issue in X v Mid Sussex CAB was not about free movement but about employment rights generally; however, insofar as Ms Thyssen’s reply reflects current Commission thinking on the employment (or non-employment) position of volunteers, it cannot be lightly dismissed.

Quick Links

And finally …

Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba and the United States is generating substantial media interest, and the official accounts in VIS, above, and il Bollettino, are being supplemented by other background information. John Thavis’ account of the behind the scenes activities on the Benedict XVI’s papal plane in Chapter 2 of his The Vatican Diaries has now been augmented by an article by John Allen in Crux: Fun facts and more about life aboard the papal plane of Pope Francis, subtitledSeparating myth from reality about ‘Shepherd One.’” Significantly, he notes that the name “Shepherd One” is a “media conceit rather than an actual call sign. Formally speaking, the papal plane doesn’t have a name. Its designation is usually just Alitalia flight AZ 4000 on the outbound leg, and beyond that Italians simply call it the volo papale, or “papal flight.”

Whilst last week Dr Ed Peters and Fr John Hunwicke, independently and from different points of view, stressed the importance of Latin in relation to assertions about fundamental aspects of Church teaching, the Pope’s US trip has resulted in other linguistic issues: there has been criticism that he will deliver most of his speeches in Spanish; and for those in English, this week Crux carried US papal visit – A guide for Americans to ‘decoding’ Pope Francis explaining the meaning of certain words frequently used by the Holy Father:

“No matter what language Francis is speaking … there’s also a cluster of key words that have become part of his standard talk on the stump. They all have precise meanings to him, but they can be unclear or open to misinterpretation for those who haven’t followed him closely.”

The frequent use of papal buzzwords lends itself to devising a variant of “Buzzword Bingo”, a favourite of students/bored executive and other participants at meetings, lectures &c – “Bergoglio Bingo” anyone?

2 thoughts on “Religion and law round-up – 20th September

  1. The article X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau & Anor is extremely interesting for any church that has volunteers, which let’s face it they all do. But of course this also goes much further where you have some who do the flowers and clean the brasses, then others who near run a parish undertaking many hours of ‘unpaid work’. For chaplaincies there is also a possible implication as many rely on volunteers to assist in their day to day activities. Then there are the differences in the diocese as some allow non-stipendiary ministers a payment to cover ‘general expenses and lost time’ when performing funerals and marriages, so would they be considered ‘employees’ by the definition as stated? Diocesan borders are no respecters of court boundaries; one could easily see two claims for age discrimination in one court against two churches only a couple of miles away, one in one diocese and one in another. One brought by a non-paid minister with no expenses, the other by non-paid minister who gets expenses, both taking regular weddings and funerals. Commissioner Thyssen’s definition seems to imply the remunerated minister has a better claim even though both do the same role? Justice?

    One word of caution: after twenty-two years working in the safety and health industry trying to separate out a duty owed to a volunteer as compared to that owed to an employee was near impossible, if at all possible. Even if one could, why would one wish to do so morally? So X v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau & Anor has a limitation when we consider safety, health and welfare.

    • Jeff

      Thanks for that. I’m still not sure why I feel uncomfortable about Commissioner Thyssen’s answer (I’ll have to read the cases she cites) but I do feel uncomfortable nevertheless.


      PS: Where’s the “Monsignor” come from?

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