Law and religion round-up – 15th November

A week completely overshadowed by the massacre in Paris…


We rarely do very much by way of “Editorial”; but this week we can hardly let the tragic events in Paris go unremarked. If they tell us anything – apart, that is, from the seemingly-inexhaustible capacity of people to behave with extreme cruelty – they are, perhaps, a salutary reminder of the danger of religious fanaticism. The Muslim Council of Great Britain was quick to issue an unequivocal statement condemning the killings:

“The attacks once again in Paris are horrific and abhorrent, and we condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms … There is nothing Islamic about such people and their actions are evil, and outside the boundaries set by our faith.”

Nor is there anything Christian about an Islamophobic response.

Hate-speech and Article 10

Racist attacks are by no means one way; and last week the ECtHR struck a blow for sanity by declaring inadmissible a claim under Article 10 (freedom of expression) about the conviction of a French comedian, Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, for an incident during one of his shows.

An academic who had been convicted several times for Holocaust-denial had been presented with a “prize”, in the form of a three-branched candlestick with an apple stuck on each branch, by an actor wearing striped pyjamas on which there was sewn a yellow star bearing the word “Jew”. M’Bala M’Bala claimed that his conviction for racial/religious insults violated his right to free expression: the Fifth Section would have none of it. The judgment in M’Bala M’Bala v France [2015] ECHR No. 25239/13 is in French only: we noted it here.

Pemberton v Inwood

The big news at the end of October was that Canon Jeremy Pemberton had lost his Employment Tribunal claim against the then Acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham for refusing him a licence under the Extra-Parochial Ministry Measure 1967. We reported it briefly at the time; but last week we posted a considered note on the case. Long: but much shorter than the judgment – which we expect to be appealed.

Responding to the Syrian refugee crisis

The Government’s pledge to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years in response to the current crisis brings with it some quite complex legal issues for the organisations responding to the challenge. This week Tim Rutherford, of Stone King LLP, explored some of them in a guest post.

Commons vote to devolve abortion law to Scotland

On 9 November 2015, the Scotland Bill 2015-16 completed its report and third reading stages in the House of Commons and now proceeds to the Lords. Among the 100-plus amendments to be considered in the day’s six-hour slot was Government new clause 15:

“In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 (specific reservations) omit Section J1 (abortion).”

By removing the reservation it devolves legislative competence to the Scottish Parliament. The amendment was passed by 350 votes to 183 and the main points raised in the debate are discussed here.

A new blasphemy law?

The issue of blasphemy came up at a conference in London on Wednesday on “Terrorism and Extremism – how should British Muslims respond?” under the auspices of the Muslim Council of Great Britain. during which concern was expressed that the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) has no power to pursue complaints of discrimination against groups of people, such as Muslims, if no individual is specified in an offending article.

Al Arabiya News carried a brief report of the conference on Friday in which it quoted Keith Vaz, Chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, to the effect that he would have “no problem” with a new blasphemy law provided it applied to all religions. David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, said that some mainstream media had been “grossly irresponsible” in their coverage of Muslim issues and it was something that the IPSO ought to think about. However, though he would not object to a public debate about blasphemy, he had his doubts:

“Personally I’m not sure whether I would welcome a blasphemy law, because I think we have to be free to make fun of each other. We even have to be free to offend each other. [But] I would have no problem with the idea of a democratic debate on whether there is room for some kind of blasphemy law.”

Quick links

  • Church of England & ors: Child tax credits and Universal Credit: limit on support for families with more than two children: briefing from a variety of faith communities of different traditions in advance of the House of Lords second reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, scheduled for 17 November: it expresses deeply-held shared concerns about clauses 11 and 12 of the Bill, which will limit to the first two children the support provided to families through tax credits and Universal Credit.

And finally …

Some parts of the drinks industry have been doing their bit for equality. The new product – No Label – is claimed to be the world’s first “transgender” beer and uses hops that have changed sex from male to female. It is produced by the Scottish brewing company Brewdog who explain: “No Label is the world’s first ‘non-binary, transgender beer’ designed to reflect the diversity … and champion inclusivity. The brewery has partnered with LGBTI event organisers Queerest of the Queer and will be donating profits from sales of No Label to charities which support transgender youth communities. Oh, and its launch on 6 November also coincided with at the opening of BrewDog’s latest venue in Soho. Which is all very positive: but the obvious question is, but is it any good as beer?

Meanwhile, Guinness decided that, after 256 years, it is to stop using isinglass as a fining agent for its products. As isinglass is derived from dried fish bladders, this is “clearly” good news for vegans – but will it alter the taste? But at Starbucks, there’s been a mega-storm brewing in the US over the 2015 Red Starbucks Cup™, which is plain red rather than including the images of Christmas such as snowpersons, sledging, penguins, snowflakes &c that assail [?Wassail] us during this period of Advent. Whilst Vox notes the irony of the 14 million views that the “Starbucks’ War on Christmasvideo received, over in Husborne Crawley there is a more relaxed and more positive approach: Happy Christmas, Mr Starbucks.

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