The EU Neverendum grinds on – apart from which, it’s been quite an interesting week…
The Queen’s Speech
We noted the Queen’s Speech, insofar as it touched on issues of law and religion, and some aspects of it have already come in for adverse media comment from precisely that perspective. According to Christian Today, the proposal for a Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill provoked Simon McCrossan, head of public policy at the Evangelical Alliance, to respond:
“It’s extreme to try and tell religious groups what they can and can’t teach under the guise of fundamental British values. It’s extreme to threaten to send Ofsted inspectors into churches if they don’t teach British values. This government’s trying to fight extremism with extremism and the main casualty will be our fundamental freedoms.”
Subsequently, a varied coalition of individuals and organisations, ranging from Liberty, the Muslim Council of Britain, the National Secular Society and the Jewish Council for Racial Equality to Sir Peter Fahy (former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police and former National Policing Lead for Prevent), Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, Conor Gearty and Kirsty Brimelow QC, published a letter to the Prime Minister arguing that the proposals “will serve to alienate communities and undermine free speech, but there is scant evidence that they will tackle the terrorism we all want to confront”.
In particular, according to a report in Lapidomedia, the Christian Institute, the National Secular Society and the Peter Tatchell Foundation have all expressed concern that the plan to introduce Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs) will target activist groups that could include trades unions, environmental campaigners and non-violent figures from the political fringe. Under the proposals, EDOs will restrict the movement and activities of people whom the Government thinks are engaged in “extreme activities”, even if they have not broken the law. They will also apply to “venues and facilitators” that are deemed to help extremists.
We’ll see precisely what is proposed when the Bill is published: but it is undoubtedly the case that “extremism” is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. There’s all that stuff in Matt. 19:21 about selling what thou hast and giving it to the poor, just for a start…
General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Yesterday saw the opening of the annual General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and a decision on perhaps the most controversial issue of recent years. The Assembly approved proposals to allow ministers and deacons in same-sex marriages to continue in ministry; however, the Kirk will not solemnise same-sex weddings in its churches. We posted about it here and the Kirk’s subsequent press statement is here.
On a personal note, Mrs Janette Wilson is retiring as Solicitor of the Church and Law Agent of the General Assembly and is succeeded by her Depute, Ms Mary Macleod. Many English students of law and religion with only a vague notion of the intricacies of Scots law (of whom Frank is one) have reason to be very grateful to Janette for her unfailing helpfulness and good humour over the years in answering daft-laddie questions about the technicalities of the Kirk’s practice and procedure.
Safeguarding in Jersey
On Friday, the BBC reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury had apologised to the Dean of Jersey over a claim by a woman known as HG that the Dean had mishandled her complaint of abuse by a churchwarden of a church on the island in 2008. The Dean had his commission withdrawn by the Bishop of Winchester, Tim Dakin, for a month in March 2013 over his handling of the claim; and the Deanery of Jersey was later transferred from the Bishop of Winchester to the temporary oversight of the Bishop of Dover.
According to the BBC, the Archbishop assured the Dean, Bob Key, that there was “no evidence of problems in Jersey”. It was confirmed that the report on the case by former High Court judge Dame Heather Steel will not be published; but it will feed into the wider review of safeguarding in the Church in Jersey which is currently being carried out by Bishop John Gladwin.
The House of Bishops is shortly to discuss the Elliott Review recommendations published in March, which include proposals for training senior clergy on how to deal with disclosures.
The week saw two very interesting judgments handed down, one by the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the other by the Administrative Court.
In Pendleton v Derbyshire County Council & Anor (Religion or Belief Discrimination)  UKEAT 0238 15 2903, the claimant was a teacher whose headteacher husband had been convicted of making indecent images of children and voyeurism and sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment. She decided to stick by him in loyalty to her marriage vows and was sacked, even though she had known nothing about his activities prior to his arrest and had an exemplary record of service. The EAT held that she had been wrongfully and unfairly dismissed and, in addition, had suffered unjustified indirect discrimination on grounds of her beliefs.
In TH v Chapter of Worcester Cathedral & Anor  EWHC 1117 (Admin), the claimant sought judicial review of the Chapter’s decision to revoke his membership of the Worcester Cathedral’s Guild of Ringers and the Bishop’s invitation to sign an agreement that placed conditions on him ringing bells in all other churches within the Diocese after findings that he had behaved inappropriately (though not, it should be emphasised, illegally) with children and young people. The Court held, in short, that the decisions were not reviewable because neither of the defendants was a ‘hybrid’ public authority for the purposes of s 6 Human Rights Act 1998 and Article 8 ECHR and the two decisions complained of were private matters without any public law element.
Hijabs in Spanish courtrooms
Ms Zoubida Barik Edidi, a Spanish advocate, appeared at a hearing before the Audiencia Nacional wearing her advocate’s gown and a hijab. No comment was made the first time she did so; however, at a later the hearing the President of the Court asked her to sit in the part of the courtroom reserved for members of the public. Her attempts at redress in the domestic courts proved fruitless; but in Barik Edidi v Spain  No. 21780/13 the ECtHR rejected her complaints under Article 6 § 1 (fair hearing), 8 (respect for private and family life) and 9 (thought, conscience and religion) and Article 1 of Protocol No. 12 (general prohibition of discrimination) on the grounds that her appeals before the domestic courts had been out of time and she had therefore failed to exhaust domestic remedies.
Which is a pity, because it would have been extremely interesting to have had the court’s analysis of the substantive issues – but, of course, it’s a court, stupid, not an advice service for law & religion geeks.
- Law and Religion Australia: “Exemptions in discrimination laws applying to churches: religious exemptions in Federal anti-discrimination laws have become an issue in the Australian Federal election campaign: Neil Foster elucidates.
- UKHRB: The British Bill of Rights Show: Series 14, Episode 9… *Zzzzzzz*: Adam Wagner on the progress (progress?) of the Government’s proposals, with lots of links to interesting comments on other sites.
On Tuesday, The Telegraph ran the rather astonishing headline, Church of Scotland ‘to introduce online baptism’ in bid to boost membership. We blinked several times when we saw it: that’s just not the way that baptism works – and the Kirk, collectively, is immensely thoughtful and painstaking in the way it addresses issues of faith and practice. On Thursday, the Revd George Cowie, Convener of the Church’s Legal Questions Committee which produced the report, summarily dismissed the more sensationalist media speculations:
“Our report makes reference to the possibilities of online membership and even about people gaining access to the sacraments without being physically present in a congregation. This has led to some headlines about ‘online baptisms’, which would represent a very radical departure from current church practice [you can say that again, Eds]. It is important to emphasise that the Legal Questions Committee isn’t putting forward any such proposals at this time.”
In short, it seems that the headline was the ecclesiastical equivalent of Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster.