Law and religion round-up – 28th May

A very, very sad week – and not one for flippant straplines…

The atrocity in Manchester

The appalling news from Manchester is beyond words. How society might react to it, however, is a legitimate matter for concern: there have already been calls in the social media for mass internments (of whom, precisely?) – and worse. Possibly one of the most measured reactions on Twitter was from Adam Wagner:

“1/ A few thoughts on the horrendous terror attack on my brilliant home town of .

2/ Terrorism isn’t just senseless violence. It has a purpose, which is to terrorise us. We, the public who watch in terror, are victims too.

3/ It’s totally natural to respond to terror with fear, anger, sometimes even a need for revenge; an ‘eye for an eye’. That’s what they want.

4/ The very best human societies are open, tolerant, multicultural. Terrorism makes us close up, retreat into our safe, small groups.

5/ In times of fear and retreat we must trust the rule-based system we build in better times. It’s insurance against our worst natures.”

Church of Scotland on same-sex marriage

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has agreed in principle to the report of its Theological Commission, An Approach to the Theology of Same-Sex Marriage.The Assembly’s Deliverance instructs the Legal Questions Committee study the matters which would have to be addressed in any new legislation permitting Ministers and Deacons to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies, “with a view to presenting a Report to the 2018 General Assembly”.

On the assumption that the Legal Questions Committee drafts the necessary Act of Assembly, it will have to be approved by the Assembly in principle in 2018 and – presumably – be sent down to the presbyteries under the terms of the Barrier Act, as was the Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships Act (Act I 2015), returning to the Assembly in 2019. So assuming that a majority of presbyteries approves the Act, it might become law in two years’ time.

General Synod

Synod will meet in York from Friday July 7 until Monday July 11 and the timetable for this group of sessions was published on 25 May. The full agenda will be published with the first release of papers on Friday June 16. On the afternoon of 8 July, consideration will be given to the Private Member’s Motion of Ms Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) relating to conversion therapy, in which she will move: “That this Synod: (a) endorse the statement of 16 January 2017 signed by The UK Council for Psychotherapy, The Royal College of General Practitioners and others that the practice of conversion therapy has no place in the modern world, is unethical, harmful and not supported by evidence; and (b) call upon the Archbishops’ Council to become a co-signatory to the statement on behalf of the Church of England.”

On the following day, Synod will consider the motion Diocesan Synod Motion, Welcoming Transgender People, moved on behalf of the Blackburn Diocesan Synod: “‘That this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition”.

CofE legal opinion: Organists

On 25 May we reviewed the Church of England’s recent legal opinion Parish Music: organists and choirmasters and church musicians which considers the contractual relationship between ministers and organists, and the choice of music. Next week, a further post will look at employment law issues and include summaries of the case law referred to in the opinion.

Humanist weddings in Northern Ireland

On Friday Colton J heard argument in the judicial review brought by Laura Lacole and Eunan O’Kane in which they argued that the absence of recognition of humanist weddings in Northern Ireland was discriminatory. According to the report in the Belfast Telegraph, their counsel pointed out that “religious people, from Pagans to Free Presbyterians and everything in between, enjoy a substantial legal privilege” and that, in a sense, the State was giving its legal blessing to such marriages.

The Attorney General for Northern Ireland, John Larkin QC, argued that the fact that humanist elements could be incorporated into the existing civil ceremony provisions  weakened the case for a separate class of humanist ceremony and that the applicants had failed to explain what exactly it was that they wanted that could not be accommodated in a civil wedding. Philip Henry, representing the General Register Office and Department of Finance, said that “vows, music, content and venue” could be modified in civil ceremonies, so long as the ceremony remained non-religious; and the only matter at issue was that the couple were unable to have their chosen humanist celebrant to conduct their wedding.

In short, the case seems to be about who may conduct a civil ceremony rather than its form and content. Reserving judgment, Colton J said that he was aware of the imminence of the marriage and hoped to give his decision soon.


Speaking at a press conference following the General Affairs Council Article 50 meeting in Brussels on 22 May, Louis Grech, Maltese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for European Affairs, confirmed that the Council had formally adopted the decision to start negotiations with the UK and that the European Commission had been nominated as the official negotiator on behalf of the EU, with Michel Barnier as chief negotiator.

The negotiating directives had been adopted, with the first set of directives concentrating on the withdrawal phase, and a Council working group had been established which was to meet for the first time on 23 May. He reiterated the EU’s primary aims during the initial phase of negotiations: to guarantee citizens’ rights, to balance the books with the UK and to avoid a “hard” border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The “right to die”

Noel Conway’s judicial review of the law on assisted dying got under way last week with a directions hearing. Mr Conway, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in November 2014, was unsuccessful in his initial application; on appeal, however, McFarlane and Beatson LJJ concluded in R (Conway) v Secretary of State for Justice [2017] EWCA Civ 275 that permission to appeal and permission to apply for judicial review should be granted and they remitted the matter to the Divisional Court. Mr Conway’s lawyers at Irwin Mitchell said that a full hearing was expected in the next few months.

Church of England publications

On 21 May, the Church Commissioners for England published their 2016 financial results and annual report. The Church Commissioners’ total return on its investments in 2016 was 17.1%, compared with the previous year’s return of 8.2%. Over the past 30 years, the fund has achieved an average return of 9.6% per annum. In 2016 disbursements by the Commissioners totalled £230.7M, accounting for approximately 15% of the Church’s overall mission and ministry costs. This represents an increase in church expenditure of 5.6% from the previous year.

The Guardian observed that “[t]he case for profitable ethical investing has been bolstered by the Church Commissioners for England, as the fund announced divine returns on its financial portfolio for 2016”. The Church Commissioners, whose target is making a return of inflation plus five percentage points, said it had been partly aided in 2016 by sterling’s weakness after the Brexit vote, with the fall in the value of the pound accounting for about half the gains made on its equity portfolio.

The Commissioners said they had been promoting responsible investment, including being “instrumental in filing climate disclosure resolutions at [mining groups] Anglo American, Glencore and Rio Tinto” and continuing “to vote against the majority of remuneration reports”.

On 24 May, the Church published a brief summary report of the Bishops’ meeting in York on 22-23 May 2017. Some commentators had suggested that at their meeting the Bishops would discuss the irregular consecration of the Revd Jonathan Pryke as a bishop at Jesmond Parish Church by bishops of the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa (REACH-SA). We felt that if would be unusual if they did not discuss the issues involved, but it would be equally unusual if this summary report included reference to such discussions in advance of any action on the matter.

News from Trumpton

The issue of the second Executive Order grinds on. In International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, (4th Cir, May 25, 2017) the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, affirmed by 10-3 the preliminary injunction against enforcement of Section 2(c) of the Order, which imposes a 90-day suspension on entry into the country of nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Name change for the humanists

The British Humanist Association changed its name and became Humanists UK. In an e-mail to members, Chief Executive Andrew Copson said that Humanists UK “represents not just a new logo, but a totally new, friendly look that captures the essence of humanism: open, inclusive, energetic, and modern, with people and their stories placed first and foremost in all our broad and varied work.” The first event under the new banner will be the Humanists UK Convention in Cambridge in June.

Michael Goodman RIP

The death was announced of His Honour Michael Goodman, sometime Circuit Judge, Chancellor of Guildford, Lincoln and Rochester and Vicar General of the Province of Canterbury: Mark Hill has written an appreciation here. Michael was the founder-editor of the Ecclesiastical Law Journal and Frank will always be grateful to him for encouraging his first faltering steps in writing for it.

The Very Rev Dr James Weatherhead RIP

Dr James Weatherhead, former Principal Clerk and Moderator, died a few hours before the start of this year’s Church of Scotland General Assembly. You can read his obituary here: it notes that it was reported to the General Assembly on the day he died that his Constitution and Laws of the Church of Scotland is to form the basis of an updated manual of practice and procedure.

Constitutionalism, Democracy and Religious Freedom

Routledge has just published Constitutionalism, Democracy and Religious Freedom: To be Fully Human. Hans-Martien ten Napel, Associate Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law at Leiden University, argues that, at a time when the associational and institutional dimensions of the right to freedom of religion or belief are coming increasingly under pressure, redirecting the concept and practice of liberal democracy towards the more classic notion of limited, constitutional government, with a considerable degree of autonomy for civil society organisations, would allow for greater religious pluralism.

Forthcoming conference

“Evensong, all”

Back in February, we mentioned that the York Minister Police was to be given the same powers as regular police constables within the Minster precinct following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Chapter and the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire: principally, the power of arrest. The memorandum of understanding recognises that although security provision inside the minster and its precinct remain the responsibility of cathedral constables, while North Yorkshire Police will be responsible for investigating all crime. Anyone who is arrested will be handed over to North Yorkshire Police and the force will be responsible for the submission of prosecution files.

The BBC reported that the eight constables and the head of security had completed their attestation and training and had been sworn in at a special ceremony on Tuesday.

Quick links

And finally… I

Advice for the perplexed from 121 George Street:

And finally… II

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7 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 28th May

  1. “In short, the [humanist marriage] case seems to be about who may conduct a civil ceremony rather than its form and content.” That is the implausible pleading of the Northern Ireland authorities, but it is sad to see LRUK endorse it. The permissible adaptation of the civil ceremony, as submitted in evidence by the Registrar-General, amounted to a reading of no more than two minutes and the saying of personal vows so long as these had been submitted for official approval a fortnight in advance. How would Christians like to be told they could make do with a non-religious ceremony except for a two minute prayer subject to official veto?

    Besides, under the Human Rights Act s.3 and Articles 9 and 14 there is an equivalence between religious and non-religious beliefs, meaning that the ban on religious material in a civil wedding must amount to a ban also on explicitly humanist material, to preserve the ceremony’s secular (neutral) character.

    • Sorry, David: I wrote that bit and I may not have expressed myself as well as I might: I was merely attempting to sum up what I understand to be the core issue at stake.

      So far as I understand the system in Northern Ireland, it licenses celebrants rather than venues – as in Scotland: therefore, the issue for judicial review is whether or not humanist marriage celebrants may be licensed to conduct weddings, not what may or may not be included in a non-religious wedding service. Of course I fully support the desire of humanists in Northern Ireland to conduct wedding ceremonies.

  2. The cause of an atrocity.
    An academic at Salford University (which university was briefly attended by the Manchester mass murderer) was interviewed by the BBC. I am quoting from my rather fallible memory since I don’t have a transcript but the key thing he said was to the effect… There is no point in trying to deduce a rational reason for such atrocious acts. They may be “rationalised” after the event but the cause is the murderer’s psychosis.

    My view is that we should look at the psychosis and its cause.

    Belief in a supernatural entity whose purpose for humanity has been revealed by a prophet,
    Belief in a self-aware existence after death.
    Belief in the inevitable global triumph of the purpose-so-revealed which will be brought about by killing or enslaving infidels.
    Belief that suicide, in the act of killing infidels, will transport the murderer to paradise.

    These beliefs are the causes of the psychosis.

    The proximate cause of the atrocity was the behaviour of a socially dysfunctional man suffering from this psychosis. The beliefs are the ultimate causes.

    Is this how these terms would be used in law?

    • As to the law, I don’t know, except to say that the doctrine of causation is extremely complex and well outside my field of study.

      As to the diagnosis, I’m not a psychiatrist – and neither, presumably, are you.

  3. Can you offer a more plausible diagnosis? Do you believe that a psychiatrist could?
    I understand that my position is rather like saying that – in the US – the culture of gun ownership and use was an ultimate cause of a psychotic man killing school pupils. This may make my position unpopular. The cultural roots of such horrific events are truly hard to face.
    If, as a society, we are to produce an effective policy to reduce or eliminate such atrocities I think we need an honest understanding of the motivation. At present most explanations seem to be politically convenient rather than rational with the result that no policy is offered which might hold the possibility of being effective.

    • I wouldn’t presume to try. It might be that a psychotic is more likely than a non-psychotic to believe in such things as life after death: the psychosis fuelling the belief rather than the belief fuelling the psychosis. And clearly, there are large numbers of non-psychotics who believe in personal survival after death. I don’t: but I certainly wouldn’t suggest that those who do are in some way mentally unstable.

  4. I think you miss the point. I am not saying that belief in supernatural entities whose purpose for humanity has been revealed to “prophets” and belief in life after death are signs of mental illness but I am saying that if a population has these beliefs inculcated since childhood then amongst their number there will be some who come to regard a human life as insignificant and see their own life as insignificant since it is nothing more than a prelude to a far more desirable existence. All the pre-requisites are there for the kind of action we suffered on 7th July 2005, 22nd May 2017 and, across the world, many, many times before that.

    The murder of others by self-immolation in this strange religious fantasy world is explained, not by madness but by a religious belief. Not your religious belief – but your religious belief is very much a minority religious belief. From outside of the mind of the suicide bomber, the act looks like that of a madman. From the religious perspective of the suicide bomber, it is utterly rational. Hence the ultimate cause of the atrocity is religion.

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