Law and religion round-up – 29th May

A week in which the Kirk held its annual General Assembly, the Government announced its promised review of sharia – and more on fonts and exhumations (but not simultaneously)…

The independent review into sharia

On Wednesday Home Secretary Theresa May launched the long-awaited independent review into sharia law in England and Wales, first mooted in March 2015. Almost simultaneously, Baroness Cox presented her private Peer’s bill, the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, which she has promoted unsuccessfully on previous occasions.

Both seem to point to an issue that appears (to us, at least) exceedingly difficult to resolve. If two people in dispute choose to go through a formal arbitration process, that process can be regulated by statute: no problem. But if a childless man and a woman choose to have a nikah wedding without at the same time entering a civil marriage under English law and then, in due course, divorce before a sharia tribunal, what business is that of the courts? They are not legally married and there are no children whose interests the courts should consider, so are they in any different position from a childless secular couple who live together then split up? We look forward to the outcome of the review with interest.

Church of Scotland General Assembly

On Tuesday the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted in favour of a motion (the text of which we have been unable to locate) endorsing continued UK membership of the European Union, defeating by 402 votes to 172 an amendment that would have removed the statement that the UK should stay in the EU. The Assembly resolved to

“Note and reaffirm the deliverances agreed by the General Assembly of 1996 and 2014 which gave thanks for the work of the European Union in promoting peace, security and reconciliation amongst the European nations, note that the UK has been part of the European Union since 1973 and believe that the UK should remain in the EU”.

In response to which, Mark Woods commented in Christian Today that for a Church to take a corporate stance on which way to vote in the EU referendum risked alienating those members who disagree with the majority view.

The Assembly also agreed to instruct its Church and Society Council and its Legal Questions Committee to respond to any consultation on a British Bill of Rights,

“with particular emphasis on its implications for the operation of the Scotland Acts, the constitutional settlement in Scotland and the impact on citizens as holders of rights, including the workings of the Scottish Parliament and the status of the Church of Scotland”.

Church of England news

Recent developments in the Church of England have been more than adequately covered by Thinking Anglicans in a number of posts:

  • Outline timetable for the July General Synod of the Church of England.The full agenda and other papers will be published on Friday 17 June 2016. ;

In addition, the Church has issued Press Releases on 25 May on Theological literacy and the Shareholder revolt at ExxonMobil. Also …

… the vicar and the “streak”

Not an item on the clergy and naturism, but the video From Engine Driver to Ordination currently featured on the Church of England home page, which further supports Michael Ainsworth’s Thoughts on railways, clergy, religion and the law. Dianne Gamble, who worked at the National Railway Museum in York for 18 years, qualified as an engine driver before training for the ministry. The opening shots of the video show Mallard, one of Sir Nigel Gresley’s A4 Pacifics, which were affectionately known as ‘streaks’.

Roman Catholic liturgical U-turn

In what is literally an 180 degree turn, the Catholic Herald reports that in an interview with the French Catholic magazine Famille Chrétienne, Cardinal Robert Sarah said that the Second Vatican Council did not require priests to celebrate Mass facing the people, and rejected the argument that priests celebrating Mass facing east are turning their backs on the faithful “or against them”. He said “[i]t is legitimate and complies with the letter and spirit of the Council [to face East]… As prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, I wish to recall that the celebration versus orientem is authorised by the rubrics, which specify the times when the celebrant must turn to the people. It is therefore not necessary to have special permission to celebrate facing the Lord.”

The Second Vatican Council did not require priests to celebrate Mass facing the people, which was “a possibility, but not an obligation”. Readers and listeners should face each other during the Liturgy of the Word, but “as soon as [the moment is reached] when one addresses God – from the Offertory onwards – it is essential that the priest and faithful look together towards the east. This corresponds exactly to what the Council Fathers wanted.”

Turkey and freedom of religion

Amid the row over whether or not Turkey is likely to join the EU any time soon (see the last few days’ media, passim) the ECtHR ruled in Jehovah’s Witnesses Association and Ors v Turkey [2016] ECHR 453 that the Turkish local authorities’ refusal, ostensibly on planning grounds, to allow the Jehovah’s Witnesses to register places in which they could worship amounted to a breach of Article 9: we posted about it here. To describe Turkey’s recent record before the ECtHR on accommodating religious minorities as “patchy” would be polite understatement.

The EU and religious education

María Teresa Giménez Barbat MEP (ALDE, Spain) asked a question in the European Parliament about the recent judgment in the High Court in R (Fox & Ors) v Secretary of State for Education [2015] EWHC (Admin) in favour of three families that had challenged the Government’s new religious studies GCSE, which, they claimed, failed to reflect equality of belief and pluralism in the school curriculum by not including non-religious world views such as humanism. Specifically, she asked the Commission:

  • What measures has the Commission taken to protect impartiality towards religion or belief in schools, in compliance with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union?
  • How have the EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief, adopted by the Council of the European Union on 24 June 2013, been implemented in the European education systems, taking into consideration humanism and non-religious views?

The Commission replied that “Member States are solely responsible for the content and the organisation of their education and vocational training systems” and that the EU Guidelines on freedom of religion or belief are an instrument of the European Union’s external human rights policy.

Consistory court judgments

Recent consistory court judgments of particular interest include:

  • Re St Philip Scholes [2016] ECC Lee 5, which contained an examination of the law relating to the disposal of fonts;
  • Re Quoc Tru Tran, deceased [2016] ECC Man 2, concerning non-Christians buried in consecrated ground: another example of the “mistake” category in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299;
  • Re St. Mary Mildenhall [2016] ECC SEI 1 involving a “a flagrant disregard of the faculty jurisdiction. It is the first case in this diocese that [the Chancellor has] encountered … where petitioners have withdrawn an item from a petition for faculty and then proceeded to carry out the works previously petitioned upon whilst in preliminary discussions” [39].

These will be summarized in our May round-up of consistory court judgments and considered in more detail in stand-alone posts.

Non-news of the week

Anglican Mainstream received a missive from Sarah Meyrick, Oxford Diocesan Director of Communications, to the effect that its piece “Oxford clergywoman conducts celebration of same sex marriage [of Mpho Tutu]” might be better entitled “Oxford clergywoman doesn’t conduct celebration of same sex marriage”. The updated version is here.

Er, that’s it.

Quick links

  • Cambridge Centre for European Legal StudiesEU Referendum: very useful webpage with links to resources and commentary on all sides of In, Out, Shake-it-all-about.
  • Philip Jones, Ecclesiastical Law: The Unknown Bellringer: Bells and Organs Following the judgment TH v Chapter of Worcester Cathedral et al, Philip considers the premise that the bellringer himself would seem to be “a person unknown to ecclesiastical law, either as an official of the Church, or as a servant of the parish”, a dictum originally applied (but no longer true) to organists.

And finally I …

Seen last week at the entrance to the Basilica of Monte Sant’Angelo, Gargano Peninsula, Puglia.

Vieste, Locus Iste, IMG_6155 (3)

Does this indicate that the Basilica has become a Bruckner-free zone, or is it a suggestion to visiting choirs that they might learn another party piece?

And finally II …

Theresa May speaking to Reform on the fire and rescue services:

“There’s no independent inspectorate; no regular audit of performance; and only limited available data on performance over time or between areas. Instead, local fire and rescue services are examined by a system of peer challenge – which provides no assurance whatsoever to the public. It may serve a purpose as a tool for self-improvement, but in practice it means that chief fire officers handpick their own reviewer, set their own terms of reference, and decide whether or not to publish the results. It is not so much marking your own homework as setting your own exam paper and resolving that you’ve passed – and it has to change.”

Of course, she’s absolutely right: the lack of any external accountability in the fire and rescue service is rather as if we had a system under which the UK had decided not to let any external organisation (the ECtHR, for example) scrutinise whether or not it was fulfilling its obligations under international law to observe and uphold human rights. Which is, of course, unthinkable – so you wouldn’t want that, would you, Mrs May? Oh, but hang on…


4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 29th May

  1. Thanks for flagging up the interview by Cardinal Sarah re the orientation of priest and altar. He is precisely correct – the Second Vatican Council did not require the priest to face the people. That is because it was already possible to do so.

    I remember well the re-ordering carried out in 1960 at the Catholic Cathedral in Aberdeen which resulted in the cathedra being placed against the east wall of the sanctuary and the altar (a granite slab of several tons) placed at the edge of the sanctuary with the celebrant facing the people.
    All this before the Council. I believe that the bishop got confirmation from the Congregation of Rites – precursor of the Congregation for Divine Worship before the reordering.

    Importantly, it well to recall, before people of my age pass away, the effect of this orientation. We knew in theory that the Mass was our Mass as well as the Priest’s but suddenly we could see what he was doing. When he said ‘Dominus vobiscum’ he wasn’t speaking to a wall or a reredos but to us. Even though the Canon of the Mass (Eucharistic Prayer) was said silently we could see the actions he was making. We were celebrants also.

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