Law and religion round-up – 24th January

An apparent Government retreat, face-veils again, opposite-sex civil partnerships before the courts and three reflective posts on some wider issues…

Regulating out-of-school education

On Wednesday we posted on recent developments relating to the Department for Education’s call for evidence on inspection of informal out-of-school education in England, and the apparently reassuring response of the Prime Minister to a letter from Sir Gerald Howarth MP. Out-of-school education settings were also the subject of a Westminster Hall debate [HC Hansard 20 Jan 2016 Vol 604(100) Col 567WH] during which the Minister for Schools (Nick Gibb) gave an assurance that all the speeches made would be taken into account as the Government considers the responses to the consultation, which closed on 11 January and to which it had received more than 10,000 responses. The debate is covered in our post Regulating out-of-school education: is the DfE having second thoughts?

On behalf of the Church of England, the Second Church Estates Commissioner placed on the record [Col 581] the position of the Church of England, which provides 500,000 children with out-of-school educational activities, involving 80,000 volunteers. She stated that

“the Church’s objections to the proposals should not be interpreted as a rejection of the Government’s aim of protecting children from harm … It is simply that, if the Government do proceed, the Church wishes that the measures will be much more proportionate and avoid the unintended consequences, [Col 581 WH].”

One of the Church’s main concerns was the singling out of religious activity for new laws, which implies that religious activity is inherently problematic. This was likely to inhibit the religious freedom that the consultation aimed to ensure was protected. She suggested that if the Minister wished such things to be done in an even-handed way, that should also apply to other educational out-of-school settings.

Further action by Church Commissioners

On Tuesday, it was announced that a group of investors led by New York State Comptroller Thomas P DiNapoli and the Church Commissioners for England is urging ExxonMobil to disclose the resilience of its business model in the wake of the Paris Agreement on climate change: together the group represents nearly $300 billion in assets under management and more than $1 billion in Exxon shares.

Exxon’s peers, Shell and BP, have already agreed to disclose how they will be impacted by efforts to lower greenhouse gas emissions in response to similar shareholder proposals co-filed in 2015 by the Church of England and other investors and endorsed by the boards of both companies. More recently, ten global oil and gas companies, including Shell and BP, announced their support for lowering GHG emissions to help meet the 2 degree goal.

Face-veils: yes or no?

The Telegraph reported a fairly equivocal response by David Cameron to calls for a ban on niqabs and burqas. A number of Conservative MPs want the Government to consider an outright ban on the face-veil but that does not seem to be what the PM has in mind. According to the report, he told BBC Radio 4:

“I think in our country people should be free to wear what they like, within limits live how they like, and all the rest of it. What does matter is if, for instance, a school has a uniform policy, sensitively put in place … and people want to flout that uniform policy, often for reasons that aren’t connected to religion, you should always come down on the side of the school … When you are coming into contact with an institution or you’re in court, or if you need to be able to see someone’s face at the border, then I will always back the authority and institutions that have put in place proper and sensible rules.”

He appeared firmly to reject the French and Belgian face-veil bans:

“Going for the more sort of French approach of banning an item of clothing, I don’t think that’s the way we do things in this country and I don’t think that would help.”

So it doesn’t look as if we’ll be seeing a UK re-run of SAS or Ebrahimian any time soon – fortunately. For a crisp demolition of the call for a general face-veil ban in the UK see Mark Woods’ piece in Christian TodayBanning the veil: A triumph for women’s freedom or state interference with religion?

Opposite-sex civil partnerships? 

The judicial review application of Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld was in court last week. In short, they are arguing that ss 1 and 3 Civil Partnership Act 2004 (which restrict civil partnerships to same-sex couples) are incompatible with Article 14 ECHR (discrimination), taken in conjunction with Article 8 (private and family life). According to media reports, Andrews J said that she hoped to hand down judgment fairly soon after the oral hearing.

On the UKHR blog, Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at King’s College London, commented on the implications of the case for same-sex civil partnerships in a special guest post UK Government tells High Court: Same-sex couples may be shut out of Article 14.

Guest posts

In what started out as a quiet week we had three guest posts:

We welcome the submission of guest posts for possible publication and potential authors might note that, at least from this week’s experience, these contributions receive a wide readership.

Follow-up to Primates 2016

For a meeting with no formal minutes, the article by Church Times’ staff reporters The Canterbury tale provides remarkably detailed (and positive) insights into the day-by-day progress of Primates 2016, on which we reported last week. This week the CT carried an article entitled Primates’ ruling is not binding, says canon lawyer in which Professor Norman Doe, Director of the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University, is quoted as saying that the Communiqué represents “completely unacceptable interference” with the autonomy of the bodies to whom it had issued requirements … No instrument exists conferring upon the Primates’ meeting the jurisdiction to ‘require’ these things … Whatever they require is unenforceable.”

Those that do not have any of Norman’s books on the Anglican Communion or Anglican Covenant to hand might look at the Anglican Communion web page that summarizes the four “Instruments of Communion” – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primate Meetings. In relation to the latter, it states:

“… Their churches are autonomous yet inter-dependent in their relationships with each other. The Archbishop of Canterbury chairs their meetings, which are held at varying intervals at various places in the Anglican World. The primates have no authority as a ‘body’ and their own national churches determine how their ministry is carried out in their own context …”.

LARSN Conference 2016: call for papers

The 2016 LARSN Conference will be held on Thursday 5 and Friday 6 May 2016 at the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University and will be organised by Dr Russell Sandberg and Caroline Roberts. Papers are invited both from academics and from postgraduate research students on any aspect of law and religion. Papers will be 20 minutes in length with 5 minutes for questions and there is no requirement to provide a written copy of your paper before or at the conference. The organisers can accommodate PowerPoint but no other presentational tools.

To submit a paper for consideration, please complete the submission form on the website of Cardiff’s Centre for Law and Religion, including an abstract of up to 200 words, and send it to Dr Russell Sandberg ( by Monday 29 February. The full programme and details on how to register will be available on the Centre’s website from early March. The registration fee for the conference will be £20.00 for one day or £30.00 for both days. Unfortunately, the Centre is unable to provide administrative support or cover costs for transport and accommodation.

The 2016 LARSN Conference will form part the Cardiff Festival of Law and Religion. The Festival will celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the LLM in Canon Law at Cardiff University, the first degree of its type in a British University since the Reformation. A number of events will be held to reflect upon how the study of law and religion has developed over the last twenty-five years and the likely future trajectory. This will include the launch of The Confluence of Law and Religion: Interdisciplinary Reflections on the Work of Norman Doe (CUP, 2016). Further details about the Festival will be available in early March.

LARSN was established in May 2008 as an initiative led by the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University. It seeks to bring together those who are interested in all areas of law and religion: national and international law affecting religion and religious law. It currently has almost 300 members. Membership is free. To become a member please e-mail Russell; and don’t hesitate to contact him if you have any queries.

Quick links

  • Ecclesiastical Law Society: Gospel and Law: Epiphany EditionFaculty Jurisdiction Rules 2015, archdeacons, conferences and consultations on church buildings and legal reform.
  • Strasbourg ObserversFarewell to Marckx and all that…: Dr Başak Çalı, Director of the Center for Global Public Law at Koç University Law School, Istanbul, on receiving the letter declaring inadmissible her complaint against the Turkish law that obliges a married women to take her husband’s surname or to join her name with his: a cautionary tale that feeds our suspicion that the ECtHR is not as assertive as it used to be.

And finally …

Over the past couple of weeks there has been a debate in the social media as to the antibiotic properties of facial hair, a claim that is strongly disputed by some in the case of una barba lunga. Now the Bishop of London has entered the fray (“our only bearded Lord Spiritual” according to @churchstate) with his piece in the Church Times: And Esau was an hairy man. He notes “beards are fashionable again, but the subject of facial hair and the clergy stirs strong emotions. The bearded King Edward VII, in enjoining Archbishop Cosmo Gordon Lang to ‘stop curates wearing moustaches’, gave voice to the general hostility of the Christian tradition to hair confined to the upper lip; but there the consensus ends”.

He traces the fashion for facial hair in clerics, and concludes: “With the new fashion, however, ideological seriousness has dissolved into stylistic accessory. Archdeacons no longer prowl the Home Counties with their scissors, searching for hirsute clerics. The clergy of Tower Hamlets [named in the Daily Mail as the Rev. Adam Atkinson, Vicar of St Peter’s, Bethnal Green, and the Rev. Cris Rogers, All Hallows Bow] are safe from episcopal censure, and their desire to reach out to the culture of the majority of their parishioners can only be applauded”.

3 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 24th January

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