Law and religion round-up – 6th March

Universities and same-sex marriage, religious advertising (again), church and state in Eastern Europe, George Bell – in short, much as usual…

Who should judge “fitness to practise”?

Premier reports that a second-year Masters student on a social work course at Sheffield University, Felix Ngole, has been told that he has been “excluded from further study on a programme leading to a professional qualification” and is “no longer recognised as aUniversity student” after having made comments on Facebook about his personal opposition to same-sex marriage. He made the comments in September 2015 discussing the case of Kim Davis, the marriage clerk from Kentucky who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples.

The Faculty of Social Sciences Fitness to Practise Committee concluded that his comments “may have caused offence to some individuals” and had “transgressed boundaries which are not deemed appropriate for someone entering the social work profession.” He is appealing the decision “because of its wider consequences and the huge issues of freedom of religion and freedom of expression that it raises.” He contends that the issue of fitness to practise is not a matter for the University but for the professional body concerned.

Advertising Standards Authority rules against Church of Scientology International

A TV ad for the Church of Scientology featured on-screen text which stated, “The Church of Scientology works with volunteers from many faiths to help people … including teaching 19 million the facts about illicit drugs …”. That was accompanied by an image of a row of schoolchildren each reading a leaflet. The on-screen text then stated, “… making tens of millions aware of their human rights …” and that was accompanied by an image of a boy and girl reading a leaflet. Further on-screen text stated, “… giving aid to 24 million in times of need” and was accompanied by images of two Scientology volunteers carrying a person on a stretcher and another Scientology volunteer with a stethoscope around her neck, who was holding a baby. An end-frame featured text stating, “Our help is yours.”.

A viewer complained that the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated.

  1. “teaching 19 million the facts about illicit drugs”;
  2. “making tens of millions aware of their human rights”; and
  3. “giving aid to 24 million in times of need”.

The ASA ruled in favour of the Church on the first two issues but upheld the complaint on the third, as follows:

“We considered that viewers were likely to interpret the claim ‘giving aid’ which was accompanied by images of a Church volunteer who had a stethoscope around her neck and was cradling a baby, and two volunteers carrying someone on a stretcher, to mean the Church provided direct aid, in forms such as medical assistance, rescuing victims and providing food, water and shelter and we would therefore expect the Church to provide evidence of their volunteer ministers giving such direct aid at disaster sites.

We considered that the information supplied by the Church demonstrated that volunteer ministers had worked in disaster zones around the world in some capacity between the years 1989 to 2014. In particular, they had provided a list of disaster zones their volunteer ministers had visited and a spreadsheet showing the number of individuals who had been helped each year during that period. We understood from the Church that the type of aid provided by volunteer ministers at disaster sites was varied, and that there was an initial emphasis on providing medical assistance. However, we noted that the evidence we had been supplied with to demonstrate the aid given to people at disaster sites was anecdotal.

We also had concerns about how the data, in terms of number of individuals given aid, had been calculated … Because we had not been provided with suitable evidence to show how the specific figure of 24 million had been calculated and that it was accurate, we concluded that the claim had not been substantiated and was likely to mislead viewers.”

Romanian Greek Catholics before the Grand Chamber

On Wednesday there was a Grand Chamber hearing in Lupeni Greek Catholic Parish  & Ors v Romania, one of the procession of cases about the restitution of a place of worship belonging to the Greek-Catholic Church [Biserica Română Unită cu Roma, Greco-Catolică] that was transferred to the ownership of the Orthodox Church under the Ceaușescu regime. In its Chamber judgment of 19 May 2015, the Third Section held unanimously that there had been no violation of Article 6 §1 as regards the right of access to a court and the question of legal certainty and no violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 6 §1, but that there had been a violation of Article 6 §1 with regard to the length of the proceedings. We posted about the Chamber judgment here.

State support for the Orthodox Church of Cyprus

In-Cyprus reports that the Government of Cyprus and the Church have come to an agreement on state support for clergy stipends, resolving a matter that had remained undecided since 1971. The Church will hand over the title to 15,000 acres of land, estimated currently to be worth over €200 million: in return, the state will fund half the salaries of 700 priests for a decade on the A5 pay grade: €674.82 monthly. The money will be paid to the Church for disbursement, rather than directly to the clergy concerned. [With thanks to Howard Friedman.] 

Disinheriting your children?

Last year we reported a case, Ilott v Mitson & Ors [2015] EWCA Civ 797 in which Mrs Ilott, the 46-year-old estranged daughter of Mrs Melita Jackson, challenged her late mother’s will, in which she had been cut off without the proverbial penny. In the end, she was awarded £143,000 to purchase a property and a capital sum not exceeding £20,000 in order to purchase an annuity to supplement her income. The charities who were the intended sole beneficiaries issued a joint statement in which, unsurprisingly, they said that they were disappointed by the judgment and their solicitor said that it was a “worrying decision for anyone who values having the freedom to choose who will receive their property when they die”.

On Tuesday the charities were given permission to appeal to the UKSC. It may sound slightly removed from “law & religion”; but charities depend heavily on legacy income and recent high-profile cases have suggested that there is something of a reputational risk to charities in defending challenges to wills. And as we wondered in our original post, did Mrs Jackson have any kind of moral duty of care to a 46-year-old daughter from whom she had been estranged since said daughter was seventeen?

If you want to see what we mean about reputational risk, have a look at the comments on the report in the Law Society Gazette… 

BBC responds to complaints concerning Bishop George Bell

On 3 March, the Editorial Complaints Unit ruled on an item on South East Today, BBC1 (South East), which was broadcast on 5 November 2015. The ruling states:

“An item in the programme and an associated online piece, on the handling of allegations of sexual abuse against clergy in the Diocese of Chichester, stated that there were 11 cases in which men connected with the diocese had been proven to have been involved in sexual abuse, and that the late Bishop George Bell was among them. The journalist Peter Hitchens complained that this was inaccurate, as the allegations against Bishop Bell had never been tested in court and, although the church authorities had recently apologised to and settled a civil claim with his accuser, they were not in a position to determine his guilt and had not in fact stated that they believed him guilty. The original statement by the church authorities had not explicitly said they believed Bishop Bell to have been guilty, but a subsequent statement said they had accepted the veracity of the allegations on the balance of probabilities. This, however, did not warrant reporting as a matter of fact that the allegations had been proven. Noting that South East Today had accepted in previous correspondence that the term was inappropriate and had undertaken to avoid it in future, the ECU considered that the issue of complaint had been resolved. Outcome: Resolved”

Easter service at Christ Church Cathedral Dublin

The Anglican Communion News Service reports that following negotiations between diocesan officials, the Government, and the Irish police service, An Garda Síochána, an Easter Day Eucharist will now take place at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin; as well as a special bilingual liturgy to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising. The liturgy has been prepared by the Church’s Liturgical Advisory Committee to commemorate the 1916 Rising: during the service, as the parade is passing the cathedral, “the congregation will pray for the country and its leaders and remember those who died during the Rising … The cathedral will then close for a short period and re-open its doors when the parade finishes and the crowds disperse, allowing pilgrims and tourists to visit.” However, six city centre CoI churches will remain closed.

Marriage certificates

The celebration of Mothering Sunday today provided a further opportunity for the issue of mothers’ names on marriage certificates to be raised, again. However, Tulip Siddiq’s piece This Mother’s Day, give women what they really want: marriage equality in The Guardian coincided with an objection again being raised to the second reading of Christina Rees’s Marriage and Civil Partnership Registration (Mothers’ Names) Bill 2015-16. Our post on the Westminster Hall debate on marriage registration and certification on 8 December 2015 reported the Second Church Estates Commissioner announcing that she intended to introduce her own enabling bill containing powers to amend the Marriage Act 1949. However, we noted that the Law Commission for England and Wales has completed the scoping exercise for the comprehensive review of marriage law requested over twelve months ago by the Prime Minister and we are waiting for the next stage in the process, so perhaps this is not the most appropriate time for minor legislative tinkering.

Quick links

And finally …

Following a lead in the NSS Saturday Media Round-up, we clicked on the following link to the Daily Thump which it has helpfully labelled “(satire)”:Dan Walker completes first week at BBC Breakfast without condemning anyone to Hell. However, beyond the headline, the writer exposed a peculiarly skewed view of Christianity by suggesting “Walker also avoided offering to exorcise a gay person, or calling to stone Naga Munchetty for wearing short skirts”. The piece is probably closer to the truth in “the big challenge for Dan will come in a few weeks at Easter …“, although scrutiny is more likely to be manufactured by the media than the average viewer. We also suspect that he is unlikely to be “shunt[ed] straight down to ‘Songs of Praise,’ no messing” if his reportage strays beyond the Easter bunny and chocolate eggs”. Nevertheless, were he to consider a career change, perhaps he should avoid applying to Sheffield University for a Master’s degree in social work.

One thought on “Law and religion round-up – 6th March

  1. I watched Dan Walker introduce a piece on geology in which the presenter mentioned the hundreds of millions of years over which rocks were formed. Dan seemed to show no signs of cognitive dissonance afterwards. The human mind is remarkably resilient in this way, as was pointed out by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Well done Dan… but I’m still waiting to see if you ever utter the phrase “evolution is only a theory” as was done by a previous Breakfast presenter. I wrote to the BBC Trust of course.

    Alan Rogers

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