Law and religion round-up – 20th March

Cathedrals in the Budget, Baptists and same-sex weddings, another glitch for “Vatileaks II” – and some sensible thoughts on church & state…

Pemberton v Inwood

Jeremy Pemberton announced that he had been given leave to appeal against the decision of the Employment Tribunal in his discrimination claim. He had been prevented from taking up a new post as Chaplaincy and Bereavement Manage with Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust after the Bishop refused to license him because he had married his partner Laurence Cunnington. A two-day hearing is anticipated later in the year. We posted about the ET decision here.

Sacked magistrate to sue

Last  week we noted the case of Richard Page JP, who was removed from the magistracy. after the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice concluded that his comments on national television would have caused a reasonable person to conclude that he was biased and prejudiced against same-sex adopters. It has been announced that he plans to challenge his dismissal at an Employment Tribunal: he is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre.

Family court orders vaccination of children

In London Borough of Newham v KA (Mother) & Ors [2016] EWFC B11, a complex case about the custody of four children in which, inter alia, the mother, a Muslim convert estranged from her Somali husband, had refused to allow the children to be immunised on the mistaken grounds that the vaccine contained pork gelatine. HHJ Carol Atkinson noted that KA had now agreed that the children could have the necessary vaccines [117]. Nevertheless, though she noted KA’s willingness to consent, “I have seen her agree to a whole host of things in these proceedings only to change her position later. Accordingly I intend to make an order. I will approve a draft once I see one” [118].

Forthcoming ECtHR Grand Chamber judgment

FG v Sweden (application no. 43611/11) concerns an Iranian who arrived in Sweden in November 2009 claiming asylum. In his initial request for asylum he submitted that he had been politically active against the Iranian regime: he also mentioned that he had converted to Christianity after coming to Sweden but did not wish to rely on it as a ground for asylum because he considered it a personal matter. Having been refused asylum on political grounds, he then requested a stay on his deportation, relying on his conversion to Christianity as a new fact to be taken into consideration. His request was refused; however, his expulsion was stayed under an interim ruling by the ECtHR in October 2011 under Rule 39 of its Rules of Court that he should not be expelled to Iran while the Court was considering his case.

Relying on Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture and of inhuman or degrading treatment) ECHR, FG contends that if expelled to Iran he will be at a real risk of being persecuted and punished or sentenced to death. In the Chamber judgment of 16 January 2014 the Court rejected his application by four votes to three: on 23 March the Grand Chamber will hand down judgment in the appeal.

Progress of legislation

On Wednesday the Charities (Protection of Social Investment) Act 2016, the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016 and the Diocesan Stipends Funds (Amendment) Measure 2016 received Royal Assent. The operative provisions of the Charities (Protection of Social Investment) Act will be brought into force by regulations made by statutory instrument: see s 17(4).

Budget 2016

The Budget may seem an unlikely source of material for a law & religion blog; but things have changed as successive Chancellors have used budgets more and more as a vehicle for general policy announcements that have hardly anything to do with public finance. So last week there was a series of announcements of greater or lesser interest to religious organisations:

  • Cremation: a discussion paper in response to concerns about the capacity of crematoria, in particular to accommodate Hindu and Sikh cremations, at which traditionally larger numbers of mourners wish to attend.
  • Cathedrals: a £20 million cathedral repairs fund to provide grants to listed Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals in England: unsurprisingly, it was welcomed by the C of E. The Government has also announced that a review will be set up to look at sustaining England’s churches and cathedrals, assessing maintenance and repair pressures and examining how the sector can become more financially sustainable. Whether the brief will be restricted to the sustainability of listed places of worship or will go further remains to be seen.
  • Obligatory conversion of local authority maintained schools to academies: the C of E responded as “the provider of 4,700 schools and the largest provider of academies”; but for a helpful explanation of the differences, see Academies and maintained schools: what do we know? on the Full Fact blog.
  • Business rates: the Government proposes to double Small Business Rate Relief from 50 per cent to 100 per cent and increase the thresholds: properties with a rateable value of £12,000 and below will receive 100 per cent relief. Places of worship in England and Wales are exempt from business rates but other church buildings are not; however, they benefit from the mandatory 80 per cent charity relief. The Budget did not mention charity rate reliefs; however, we understand that Government has confirmed that there will be no change to the 80 per cent mandatory relief.

Pre-Budget Measures

In his post In Michael Gove’s Orwellian world, justice for divorcing couples is for sale, Joshua Rozenberg ponders whether the 35 per cent rise in court fees will discourage people from divorcing; some have suggested that this will disproportionately affect women since they make up two-thirds of those initiating divorce proceedings. The draft Civil Proceedings, Family Proceedings and Upper Tribunal Fees (Amendment) Order 2016 was approved by the Commons in January and by the House of Lords on Tuesday: under Article 3, the fee for applying for a decree of divorce or nullity under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 or to dissolve, or for nullity of, a civil partnership (fee 1.2 of the Family Proceedings Fees Order) is increased from £410 to £550. The increased fees, for these and certain other proceedings, are effective from tomorrow.

Baptists urged not to host same-sex weddings

Christian Today reported that after last week’s meeting, the Council of the Baptist Union of Great Britain has made a statement in which it

“positively re-affirms and commends to our churches our Union’s historic Biblical understanding of marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and calls them to live in the light of it” and that this understanding has “shaped the rules for accredited Baptist ministers regarding sexuality and the ministry and our rules continue to remain unchanged”.

However, the Council also refers to the Union’s Declaration of Principle, which states that each local church can make its own decisions “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit”.

Baptist ecclesiology holds that “the Church” subsists in the gathered congregation of believers rather than in any superior body; on the other hand, BUGB provides training for ordinands and national accreditation for Baptist ministers. The situation is complex; and in her letter introducing the statement, BUGB general secretary Rev Lynn Green writes, “I am aware that many will welcome this statement and I am also acutely aware that for some it will be the cause of great pain and concern.”

“Vatileaks II” trial resumes … and adjourns again

The “Vatileaks II” trial of Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi and three others resumed on 14 March, following a recess of three months, with a series of defence motions calling for the collection of further evidence and expert testimony. Fittipaldi and Nuzzi are charged with “soliciting and exercising pressure” on Vatican employees to obtain confidential documents, while three other defendants – Msgr Angel Lucio Vallejo Balda, Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui and Nicola Maio – are charged with forming a criminal association to obtain the documents and provide them to the journalists.

On 17 March, Fr Lombardi announced a further adjournment  following receipt of medical information from Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui’s defence lawyer that she needed “absolute bed rest” for a period of 20 days. The next hearing is scheduled for 6 April at 10:30.

Beatification and Canonization

Our post New saints to cost less? examined the introduction of new norms relating to financial controls of the Church’s beatification and canonization procedures approved by Pope Francis on 4 March. This is just one area of alleged Vatican corruption highlighted in the recent books by Fittipaldi and Nuzzi which, ironically, depict Pope Francis in a favourable light – financially and politically astute, and much more assertive with the Curia than his predecessors. For anyone seeking an insight into the workings of the Vatican in recent years, Merchants in the Temple is an essential read; it is also in interesting segue to Dan Brown’s (fictional) Angels and Demons. [Merchants in the Temple is currently £18.98 at Amazon].

Church and state: a Free Church perspective

Last Tuesday the current Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, The Rt Revd David Robertson, conducted the Time for Reflection at the Scottish Parliament. He addressed the issue of church-state relations; and we thought that his remarks deserved a wider audience:

“My church was formed as the Church of Scotland, Free, because of the intrusions of the state into matters that were none of its business. My favourite story about all this is that of the famous encounter between Andrew Melville and James VI in Falkland palace in the 16th century. Melville told James that he was but ‘God’s silly vassal’ … before going on to inform him: ‘thair is twa Kings and twa Kingdomes in Scotland. Thair is Chryst Jesus the King, and his Kingdome the Kirk, whase subject King James the Saxt is, and of whose kingdome nocht a king, nor a lord, nor a heid, bot a member!’

I realise that we live in different times … but we need to work out what the roles of the state and the church are. From our perspective, we do not believe that the church has the right to tell the state how to govern, except in the most general principles. Despite rumours, we do not want a theocracy. We all have our opinions as private citizens but, as public bodies, the churches do not have the right to tell you, our elected representatives, the rate of tax, whether we should belong to the European Union or anything else. Our role is to pray for you, to serve the poor, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to have a prophetic witness—to challenge the powers that be.

History teaches us that when the church seeks to run the Government or the Government seeks to control the church, trouble awaits. Just as the church should not seek to govern politics, so the state should not seek to act as God. However, we can work together in partnership now, as we have done in the past, on vital issues such as education, welfare provision, and healthcare. The teaching of the ‘two kingdomes’ is not just an important part of our common history but an excellent model for today. It would be good for all of us to recognise that we are all servants of God, but in different, interlocking kingdoms. The relationship of the church and the state in Scotland should be that of good neighbours and good friends.”

And for “Scotland” you can read “England”, “Ireland” or, indeed, anywhere else.

Gavel watchstool of repentance

There had been so much (pictorial) use of the gavel this week from organizations who should have known better, there isn’t enough room on the Stool of Repentance for the picture editors of the bodies concerned – Theos, Civitas and The Guardian. As to the third, Joshua Rozenberg was no doubt mortified…

Quick links

  • EU Law AnalysisWearing the veil at work: Achbita and Bougnaoui: analysis by Steve Peers of the issues facing the Grand Chamber CJEU in the first two cases in which it has been asked to rule on whether or not restricting the use of the Islamic headscarf at work can amount to religious discrimination contrary to Directive 2000/78 (the ’employment equality’ Directive).
  • Huffington PostTime for Ireland to Change Its Abortion Laws: Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, on the restrictive abortion laws in both Irish jurisdictions and last week’s Amnesty Ireland poll in which 87% of respondents supported expanded access to abortion.
  • Law in Action: the admirable Joshua Rozenberg interviews the equally-admirable Shami Chakrabarti about her time at Liberty and what she will do next: interview starts 20 minutes in.
  • Church of England: Week in Westminster 14th-18th March 2016 This week bishops in the House of Lords sponsored, spoke to and voted on amendments to the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill, Immigration Bill and Trade Union Bill. Bishops also spoke in debates on renewable energy, maternal care and Israel/Palestine. They asked questions on fixed odds betting terminals, reception of unaccompanied migrant children, the effects of UK withdrawal from the EU, credit unions and preventing child abuse. In the House of Commons the Second Church Estates Commissioner answered questions on mission in deprived areas, helping ex-offenders into work, sustainable energy, women’s leadership in the church and the contribution of cathedrals to cultural and economic life.

And finally

This week the HSE Myth Busters Challenge Panel published its opinion on Case 390 – Family told by undertaker that shoes are not allowed on deceased’s body for funeral. This states: “Health and safety at work legislation does not stop undertakers enclosing shoes in coffins. Depending upon whether the deceased is to be buried or cremated after the funeral, there may be other reasons for not allowing shoes but this should have been explained properly to the enquirer. It is certainly not a health and safety matter”.

Quite, but curious as to what other restrictions there might be on clothing the deceased, we searched the Internet and came across a fascinating article “Jews and Shoes” – but, alas, that did not provide the answer. However, the Q&A page of the Emstrey Crematorium and Cemetery, (an installation perhaps better known in relation to the report on infant cremations), afforded the following information:

“Q: How does the deceased need to be dressed?

You can choose to dress your loved one in a gown or in their own clothing for their funeral. If you wish for them to wear their own clothing then clothes made from natural fibre such as cotton or wool should be chosen. We also ask that any footwear or miscellaneous items are removed from the coffin prior to the funeral due to cremation regulations.”

The ICCM Charter for the Bereaved suggests to its members “[a]dvising that clothing the deceased in clothes made of natural fibre/materials is acceptable whereas plastic, nylon and other synthetic materials are not acceptable due to the impact on the environment via emissions”. Whether this statement, like that relating to health & safety, would stand detailed scrutiny is another matter: at least Nike no longer fills the “bubble” in its running trainers with sulphur hexafluoride, SF6, the most potent commercial greenhouse gas – 22,200 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 20th March

  1. Church and State: A Free Church perspective.

    “James is King of the Kingdom of Scotland but only a subject of the Kingdom of God”. A stirring declaration from Andrew Melville but only of value if James and all the people of Scotland agreed that:- “There is Christ the King and his Kingdom the Church”. It seems Melville is arguing that the Head of State (who, at that time, was by Divine Right the Government of Scotland) must obey the dogma of the Church when making laws.

    We live in a state where the Head of State who is the successor of James VI of Scotland (who became James I of Great Britain) may believe she is a subject of the Kingdom of God (this is entirely her own business) but she is not the Government. Soon the majority of the population will be prepared to declare that they are not subjects of the Kingdom of God. So does the Moderator’s declaration mean that the body which now makes the laws must obey the dogma of the Church (Free or Established)?

    I am a law-abiding citizen of Great Britain I acknowledge that the Queen is head of state and if she wishes to believe that she is a subject of the Kingdom of God (which is, according to Melville, the Church) that is entirely her own business. I recognise only one Law… that which has originated and been passed through the democratic assembly of the House of Commons, possibly revised by the undemocratic assembly of the House of Lords and refined and interpreted by precedent. An imperfect system but never the less the one I choose to obey. I harbour the belief that the Queen is also subject to this Law. Is that not what Magna Carta and the English Civil War were supposed to be about?

    A State in which the Monarch has no power to make law must be able totally to ignore the opinion of Andrew Melville as irrelevant otherwise it is a state divided. All that I have heard in pronouncements from the several Archbishops of Canterbury, from Cosmo Gordon Lang to Justin Welby, who have presided over the Established Church since my birth does not convince me that they had or have a perfect moral view and most certainly I have seen no indication that a supernatural divine wisdom was possessed by any of them. They were, in their turn, each a child of their time… supporting wars conducted by the British State, supporting capital punishment, objecting to any relaxation of divorce laws, speaking against the repeal of oppressive laws against adult homosexual relationships. Successive Archbishops modified their attitudes to these issues as public opinion changed. They tracked public opinion rather than led it. I cannot of course prove it – because “better” is too subjective a term – but I believe that Britain is now a better place than it was in 1939… not because of these nine men but in spite of them. No doubt some will claim that the Lords Spiritual have had a benign effect in amending some of the more unfair aspects of government legislation, including at least one case in the current Parliament. But I suspect that a randomly chosen group of 26 citizens may well have done the same thing without claiming divine inspiration but relying entirely upon human empathy – which is the most admirable product of biological evolution.

    Alan Rogers

    • “So does the Moderator’s declaration mean that the body which now makes the laws must obey the dogma of the Church (Free or Established)?”. Alan Rogers in my view is pressing too heavily on his text. The term ‘dogma’ used as a singular noun is clearly not in play in this context since the Moderator is speaking of cooperation rather than coercion. Moreover, he is using Andrew Melville’s declaration precisely to argue that – obviously – the context of Church-State relations have been transformed since the Jacobean era. An argument for friendship and cooperation necessarily leaves the option open to the other side to ignore or reject the church’s overtures at will. Mr Rogers does not need to protest so much – the door is open and he is free to shut it.

  2. My Christian religion commands me to ‘keep the commands of God and the faith of Jesus.’ (Rev 14:12). I treasure my freedom, which is the right to do what I ought to do, which is, you’ve guessed it, ‘keeping the commands of God and the faith of Jesus.’

    So, when governments pass laws that are wholly contrary to the commands of God Abortion v ‘Thou shalt not murder’, or Same Sex Marriage v ‘A man shall not lie with a man as though with a woman’, to name but two, or schools teaching that sex is purely for pleasure (IPPF teaching material) or Courts upholding the dismissal of Christians for sharing their faith, when asked (Victoria Wasteney v NHS) or dismissing Magistrates for pointing to evidence that having mum and dad is actually better than having two dads or two mums (Richard Page v Lord Chancellor), then I feel under considerable compulsion no to do as I ought, and so I do not feel so free.

    Assuming we continue to carry on down this slippery slope, despite the obvious social disaster that a post Christian government, aided by a post-Christian Westminster and a post-Christian Legal system, exemplified by massive family breakdown, stuttering economy, paralysis in the face of the radical Muslim challenge to democratic authority and looming environmental threats, eventually, it seems to me, the Christians will have to take into account St Augustine’s observation: “Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?”

    In the end, once a government has so lost its sense of right and justice that, opposite to the Pauline definition of Government, it rewards those who do evil and are a terror to those who do good (cf Romans 13:1-8) what is a good Christian to do? I know I am to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but once an authority is indistinguishable from an armed gang, no law, Biblical or Natural, requires my obedience to such a menace, no matter how many benighted members of the citizenry voted for it, surely?

    Justice and righteousness are not defined by the hasty opinions of a fearful and bribed majority? If we genuinely think they are, then we are all truly lost.

  3. When Mr. Ford complains that his freedom is restricted by the laws of our democracy I am somewhat puzzled by the examples he has chosen.

    If Mr. Ford is a surgeon I am sure that he would not be required to conduct the procedure mentioned if he made it clear that it was against his conscience. Since he is male he will never be in the position of making the agonising decision to request abortion.

    As to the matter of “to lie with a man as a woman” he surely doesn’t believe that the Common Law requires him to do this.

    If Mr. Ford now or in the future has children in school he will be able to ask for them to be excused classes using IPPF material on grounds of religion. Tedious but no worse than an atheist asking for her/his children to be excused from collective worship.

    Mr. Ford objects to the granting of freedom to others under the pretence that his own freedom is being compromised.

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