Law and religion round-up – 10th January

Roundup of a fairly quiet week…

“Grossly offensive” or just “offensive”?

On Tuesday Pastor James McConnell, of Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in North Belfast, was found not guilty of making “grossly offensive” remarks about Islam. District Judge Liam McNally, sitting in Belfast Magistrates’ Court, advised Pastor McConnell to consider the impact of his words more carefully in future. However, he concluded that though the words complained of had been offensive, they were not “grossly offensive”. He agreed with Laws LJ in Karsten v Wood Green Crown Court [2014] EWHC 2900 (Admin) [at 21] that

“The courts need to be very careful not to criminalise speech which, however contemptible, is no more than offensive. It is not the task of the criminal law to censor offensive utterances.”

Unusually for the Magistrates’ Court, the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service posted the transcript of the judgment: see DPP v James McConnell [2016] NIMag 1. We noted it here.

More on CORAB

Early in December we posted a note on the newly-published report of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, Living with Difference: community, diversity and the common good and suggested that some of the early comments raised as many questions about the commentators as about the report. In a cross-post from the UCL Constitution Unit’s website, Bob Morris suggests that the recommendations are influenced as much by the nature of its membership as by any focus on the wider public interest: “the Commission largely assumes that the interests of religion are to be taken as read rather than, like as with any other institutions, open to and tested by challenge”.

Trinity Western Law School: round four begins

The Law Society of British Columbia has filed an appeal against the recent decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Trinity Western University v Law Society of British Columbia that the Benchers had fettered their discretion inappropriately in their decision of 30 October 2014 not to approve the proposed law school at TWU for the purposes of the Law Society’s admission program. [Our most recent post on it is here: scroll down.] The Law Society is appealing on the grounds that the Court erred in finding that the procedure followed by the Benchers was inappropriate and that TWU had not been afforded procedural fairness.

Consistory judgments: the first of the new

On 3 January Eyre Ch handed down judgment in Re St Gabriel Walsall  [2016] ECC Lic 1. It is interesting for the fact that it reiterated the position that a consistory court may not authorise an exhumation and reinterment “simply in order to make it easier for the bereaved to visit the grave of the deceased” [9] – but, just as significant, it is the first judgment to be released that uses the new neutral citation system.

When is a scarf not a scarf?

Reports The Independent, “Another day, another controversial item of clothing on sale.” High Street clothes chain H&M has run into a minor row over its offer of a white scarf with fringes and woven black stripes which looks remarkably like a cut-down version of a tallit – the traditional shawl worn by observant Jews when reciting prayers. Rav Danya Ruttenberg, an American woman rabbi, tweeted “Dear Fashion: Please step off other ppl’s ritual items (or symbols of liberation, really)”. H&M said:

“We are truly sorry if we have offended anyone with this piece. Everyone is welcome at H&M and we never take a religious or political stand. Stripes are one of the trends for this season and something we were inspired by. Our intension [intension??] was never to upset anyone.”

Try engaging brain, perhaps?

Quick Links

  • Primates 2016: the website of the meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, who will be meeting in Canterbury on 11-16 January 2016. The leaders of 38 Anglican provinces will be at the gathering, which was called by Archbishop Justin in September last year.
  • House of Commons Briefing Paper: Polygamy This note deals with the recognition of polygamous marriages; immigration issues; social security benefits and pension entitlement.

And finally …

The Church of England reports that the Roman Catholic Church has loaned the head of the pastoral staff associated with Pope Gregory – who sent Augustine on his historic mission to England in the 6th century – to Canterbury where Anglican Primates will gather next week. Clearly they don’t make pastoral staffs like that any more: shortly before the start of the Mass at Sarajevo’s Olympic Stadium in June last year, the cross on the Pope’s pastoral staff broke off. Vatican Insider reports “the master of papal ceremonies, Mgr Guido Martini, first tried to search for a replacement one but was unsuccessful given the tight schedule. The solution he came up with was to fix the cross back onto its rod as best he could. The white tape was wrapped around the base of the piece with the cross surmounted on it.”


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