Law and religion round-up – 16th April

“Till trump from east to west, shall wake the dead in number”

“This joyful Eastertide” 
George Ratcliffe Woodward and Charles Wood


The European Commission has a new website devoted to Brexit, which will include everything from the latest speeches to official documents as they are published. The sub-section of the main Commission website currently has a chart of the Brexit task force and directs users to the Twitter account of EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, for the latest news.

Abortion and conscientious objection in Sweden

In November 2015 we noted the case of Ms Ellinor Grimmark, a Swedish midwife who objects to abortion because of her Christian beliefs.She had been offered jobs by two women’s clinics; but when she explained that she could not perform abortions because of her conscientious objection and her Christian faith, both clinics withdrew their offers; and in Ellinor Grimmark v Region Jönköpings lan 2015-11-12 nr T 1781-14, Jönköping District Court [Tingsrätt] dismissed with costs her complaint of discrimination. The Equality Ombudsman [Diskrimineringsombudsmannen] also ruled against her. Subsequently, a third clinic also turned down her application for a vacancy. According to press reports, she has since been commuting to Norway, where the law accommodates midwives in her position.

She subsequently appealed to a Labour Tribunal – and it was announced on Wednesday that she had lost. The Tribunal concluded that there had been no violation of the terms of the Discrimination Act, because Jönköping had the right to require midwives working at women’s clinics to carry out all of their duties, including abortions. Nor had she suffered any interference with her right to freedom of opinion and expression under Article 10 ECHR. She is considering an appeal to Strasbourg.

News from Trumpton

On Monday, Neil Gorsuch was sworn in to fill the vacant seat on the US Supreme Court. The BBC flags up several pending cases on which SCOTUS is likely to divide on conservative/liberal lines, including two on freedom of religion issues:

  • Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v Comer is about the refusal by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to allow a school run by Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri to take part in a state programme that resurfaces school playgrounds with rubber from recycled tyres. The Department argues that the Missouri Constitution prohibits the funding of religious organisations, while the appellant argues that the denial infringes the church’s First Amendment rights. The case was accepted by the Court in January last year but delayed a hearing for 15 months.
  • Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission is the American answer to Ashers Baking: SCOTUS was due to decide whether to accept the case of a baker in Colorado who refused on religious grounds to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The lower court found that the owners of Masterpiece Cakeshop had violated Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act and the decision was upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

EU Special Envoy for the promotion of religion or belief

Former EU Commissioner Ján Figeľ has been reappointed for a further 12-month term as EU Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU, after some concern that the post might be discontinued.

John Masding RIP

The Revd John Masding died on Good Friday. John, who was born in 1939, was one of the first graduates of the Cardiff LLM course in canon law and had been an active member of the Ecclesiastical Law Society since its formation thirty years ago, serving for many years on its General Committee and on several of its working parties. We first met him in the guise of convener and genial host of the annual LLM reunion dinners at his Oxford college, Magdalen, of which he had been a demy (Magdalen-speak for a scholar on the Foundation). Those of us who knew him would agree with Mark Hill’s conclusion in his appreciation that John was very far from ordinary: for a start, few parish priests have driven vintage Bentleys, especially in the heart of Birmingham where he spent his ministry, while few, if any, law & religion specialists have ever read a conference paper in which a recurring theme was Kylie Minogue’s hot-pants.

Though it’s a much-overused expression, John really was a one-off. We shall miss him, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Quick links

  • Joanne Bik, Europees rechtArresten HvJ over dragen hoofddoek op het werk: don’t be scared off by the title: it includes a helpful list of just about everything currently on the blogosphere – in all languages – about Achbita and Bougnaoui.
  • Neil Foster, Law and Religion AustraliaCan kids tell other kids about Jesus at school?: discusses the recent guidance from the Queensland Department of Education and Training that “the Department expects schools to take appropriate action if aware that students participating in RI are evangelising to students who do not participate in their RI class”.
  • Philip Jones, Ecclesiastical Law: The Easter Offering: Duty and Charity: a consideration of two widely held assumptions concerning the Easter offering, that: (1) it is the collection taken at church services on Easter Day and (2) the proceeds are part of the incumbent’s official income, at least if the incumbent wishes to claim them.
  • Elizabeth Prochaska, Farrer & Co Child Protection Unit: Criminal records checks – getting it right: notes that “registered bodies are requesting barred list checks when they are not required. The DBS said: ‘This is an offence and may result in an RB receiving information they are not legally entitled to see and the applicant being inappropriately investigated for trying to work in an activity they are barred from.'”
  • John Tasioulas, AeonAre human rights anything more than legal conventions?: “Slavery, torture and racial discrimination did not suddenly become human-rights violations only when they were legally prohibited. It is the other way round: we have human-rights law in order to give force to human rights that in some sense pre-exist their legal recognition.”

Blog downtime

In our last round-up we apologised to our readers for the unacceptable downtime during the previous few days. Our IT adviser has confirmed our suspicion that this appears to be a server-related issue, but our service-providers still have not responded to our concerns. Subsequently, downtime has been considerably less – though still frequent enough to be extremely irritating both to users when accessing the blog and to ourselves when editing posts – but at times the site appears to have been operating much more slowly than usual. We would like to reassure readers that we are still on the case and are seeking solutions that will optimize the performance of the site.

A tonic for Easter eggs?

The low-key comments following the crass Tesco advertisement “Great Offers on Beer and Cider; Good Friday just got better”, suggested that some lessons had been learned from the earlier spat on Easter eggs, out of which none of the participants emerged with any credit. Easter eggs were also in the news when the web site of the Northern Irish company d-Bees Offsales crashed due to the number of orders for Easter eggs with a miniature bottle of Buckfast tonic wine (at £9.99). J Chandler & Co, who bottle and distribute the wine, which is made by Benedictine monks in Devon, distanced themselves from the product, stating: “the Easter eggs that are currently being advertised for sale in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK have not been authorised or instigated by our company. We strongly advise the public not to purchase them.”

Subsequently, the Buckfast Abbey Trust was in the cross-hairs of the National Secular Society, which asserted that “the monks who make Buckfast tonic wine linked to violent crime in Scotland should be stripped of charitable status.” However, given the manufacturing, bottling and distribution arrangements associated with the tonic wine, this might be a case of “Nice try, but ‘No'”. To date, the Charity Commission has made no public statement on whether it intends to proceed formally and investigate the complaint.

Easter pedantry

Although there have been the inevitable media interest in fixing the date of Easter, we didn’t rise to the bait this year, as we felt we had covered the topic adequately in our post Date of Easter 2016? There was little mention of “Spy Wednesday” but a twitter thread considered how best to make the “strepitus”, (although a more comprehensive treatment was given some years ago, here). However, the flavour of the week in the twittersphere appeared to have been to remind readers that next Saturday is Easter Saturday whilst yesterday was Holy Saturday. But everyone knew that, didn’t they?

And Is Easter the new Christmas? asked the BBC. Er, no. Next daft question?

And finally… 

This week the blog Anglican Memes carried the item “Top novelist @fictionfox’s husband’s career change prompts Twitter gold” – a bit too wordy and cryptic a title for us but, essentially, it concerns “the most creative burst of episcopally related shenanigans on Twitter that we’ve ever seen from @fictionfox (who happens to be married to the bishop-designate of Sheffield)”. The post reproduces some of Catherine Fox’s best tweets, including those on “the wonderfully arcane world of episcopal clothing and accessories”. We particularly liked her comment “Remember though, the crozier chooses the bishop” (those with a rock badger/coney are a Liverpool speciality) but noted the absence of a link to Gammarelli – presumably in deference to the good folk at St Mark’s Broomhill.

And a Happy Easter to all…

10 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 16th April

  1. Seeing your reference to an EU Special Envoy for the promotion of religion or belief outside the EU makes me wonder if wasteful practices like this did not inform the “Leave” outcome in the Brexit referendum?

  2. John Masding RIP
    condolences to family and friends
    The Cardiff LLM and Aberdare Hall are fondly remembered by many

  3. NB however that the EU Special Envoy post is not for the promotion of religion or belief but for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief – different!

  4. There’s also, of course, the final chorus of ‘Rejoice, the Lord is King!’ is some versions: ‘The trump of God shall sound: Rejoice!’ If only he had stuck to his original surname ‘Drump’.

    Easter offerings: I suspect they more or less stopped when congregations discovered that they were taxable.

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