The week’s news seems to underline the wisdom of the injunction in the Persil advert: Always Keep Away From Children…
The Supreme Court
First, though, the big news of the week: Baroness Hale of Richmond will succeed Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury as President of the UK Supreme Court on 2 October. Lady Justice Black, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Lord Justice Briggs will all join the Supreme Court as Justices on the same day.
Sexual orientation and “British Values”
An Orthodox Jewish school in Hackney has failed its third Ofsted inspection because it did not teach its pupils about sexual orientation. The inspectors reported that the pupils at Vishnitz Girls School, who range in age from three to eight,
“are not taught explicitly about issues such as sexual orientation. This restricts pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and does not promote equality of opportunity in ways that take account of differing lifestyles. As a result, pupils are not able to gain a full understanding of fundamental British values.”
“The school’s approach means that pupils are shielded from learning about certain differences between people, such as sexual orientation. The school’s culture is, however, clearly focused on teaching pupils to respect everybody, regardless of beliefs and lifestyle. Leaders and proprietors recognise the requirement to teach about the protected characteristics as set out in the Equality Act 2010. However, they acknowledge that they do not teach pupils about all the protected characteristics, particularly those relating to gender reassignment and sexual orientation. This means that pupils have a limited understanding of the different lifestyles and partnerships that individuals may choose in present-day society.”
Unsurprisingly, opinions in the media are divided.
Educational segregation in Birmingham
In The Interim Executive Board of X School v Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services And Skills  EWHC 2813 (Admin) the Court held that it was not discriminatory for a state-funded Islamic school to make “parallel arrangements” for the education of male and female pupils in the same building or to apply a regime of “complete segregation” for all lessons, breaks, school clubs and trips. The Court held that there was no evidence that either girls or boys were treated unequally in terms of the quality of the education that they received and that the disputed Ofsted inspection report of June 2016 could not, therefore, be promulgated in its current form: we noted the case here.
Ofsted appealed and that case is still pending; however, at a preliminary application by Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail, the Court of Appeal (Etherton MR and Gloster and Beatson LJJ) lifted the school’s anonymity and Sir Terence said that the Court would give its full reasons in due course. In a late development, The Independent now reports that the Department for Education has decided to take over the running of the school.
Humanists and religious education
Humanists UK report that a humanist parent is to seek judicial review of the decision by Vale of Glamorgan Council not to appoint a humanist representative to its standing advisory council on religious education (SACRE). Humanists UK, who are a founding member of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales and coordinate humanist membership of SACREs, have joined as a claimant in the case. The grounds of challenge are that the Vale of Glamorgan’s decision discriminates unlawfully against humanists and has the effect of relegating non-religious worldviews below religions in a way that fails to comply with human rights law. The claimants also argue that the decision contravenes the ruling of the Administrative Court in R (Fox & Ors) v Secretary of State for Education  EWHC 3404 (Admin), in which it was held that a new GCSE Subject Content for Religious Studies for schools or academies that do not have a religious character did not necessarily deliver the state’s statutory RE obligations.
Smacking and prosecuting children in Scotland
Though not, strictly speaking, “law and religion”, two issues currently exercising the Scottish Government certainly engage the wider issue of the relationship between law and morality.
The new Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Bruce Adamson, wants to see an end to the defence of justifiable assault for parents who hit their children. According to a report in the Press & Journal, he believes that to “say that it’s okay for a parent or carer to assault a child for the purpose of physical punishment and that that can be justified … is just untenable in international human rights terms”.
As to the current law that sets the age of criminal responsibility – at eight, the lowest in Europe – he argues that the current Scottish Government plan to raise it to twelve does not go far enough:
“At eight, the idea that a child who is involved in behaviour that maybe harms someone else in quite a major way … should be held criminally responsible rather than their behaviour being addressed in a welfare-type model is very, very strange.”
The United Nations set twelve as the minimum starting point for criminal responsibility a decade ago; and Mr Adamson believes that the discussion in Scotland should be about the point between 12 and 18 at which the age of criminal responsibility should be set. Meanwhile, the issue has gone live again in Wales.
Hate-speech and freedom of expression
In Belkacem v Belgium  ECHR No 34367/14 [in French], the ECtHR held that grossly inflammatory statements and harassment intended to stir up hatred or violence were not protected by the freedom of expression provisions of Article 10 ECHR. We noted the judgment here.
The Charity Commission, religion and the public benefit
It has come to our attention that, in April, an FoI request was made to the Charity Commission for England and Wales asking when it expected the review of the sectoral guidance on The Advancement of Religion for the Public Benefit to be completed and replacement guidance published. The Commission’s reply was that the guidance document is still under review.
As a result, we have just updated our post on Churches as charities: some basics.
Ticking all the right (or wrong) boxes
Twitter users will probably be aware of the meaning of “blue ticking” where the blue verified badge (i.e. a blue tick) “informs users know that an account of public interest is authentic”. (In passing, we just can’t be doing with Twitter’s labyrinthine administrative procedures, so we’ve never bothered to apply for one.) However, on other forms of electronic communications, “blue ticks” can have an entirely different significance. This week, the Marilyn Stowe Family Law and Divorce Blog reported: “A woman in Taiwan has been granted a divorce after she was repeatedly ‘blue ticked’ by her husband”.
In the context of smartphone messaging apps like WhatsApp and LINE, when someone receives a message on one of these apps and opens it, a blue tick is displayed to the sender to indicate the message has been read. The absence of a response indicates to the sender that they have been ignored or “blue ticked”. In an application for divorce to the Family Affairs Court in the northern Hsinchu district of Taiwan, a woman used this behaviour as evidence that her husband had been ignoring her.
Significantly, despite reading all such messages, the husband did not respond to one informing him that she had been in a car accident and was in the hospital. Judge Kao commented that there had been “very little interaction” between the couple and ruled that their marriage was “beyond repair”. People in a normal marriage “shouldn’t treat each other like that”, she continued, adding that the messages were “a very important piece of evidence” as they demonstrated the lack of communication between the husband and wife.
Meanwhile, over at Facebook, on 18 July the Catholic News Agency reported that during the previous 24 hours more than twenty Catholic pages, some with millions of followers, had been blocked by Facebook for unknown reasons. Of the pages known to have been affected pages, 21 are based in Brazil and four are English-language pages with administrators in the US and Africa; most of these had significant followings ranging from hundreds of thousands up to 6 million.
- James Dobson and Ryan Shorthouse, Bright Blue: Britain breaking barriers: Strengthening human rights and tackling discrimination: says the left-wing Tory think-tank “We recommend that the Conservative Party should commit the UK to remaining a signatory to the ECHR after Brexit”.
- ECtHR: Overview of the Court’s case-law from 1 January to 15 June 2017.
- Daniel Finkelstein, The Times (£): Tories should embrace the Human Rights Act: “for me, one of the key attributes of being a British conservative is standing up to populist enthusiasm when it threatens limited government, individual rights, due process and the rule of law.”
- Alice Haynes and Alastair Thompson, UKHRB: Does the Law on Assisted Suicide Need to be Changed?: both sides of the argument.
- Russell Pollitt, America – The Jesuit Review: Church opposes new plans to regulate religious practice in South Africa: an even-handed analysis of the proposal by the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities that all religious practitioners should be registered under umbrella organizations that would be recognized by the state and subject to “peer-review committees”.
Our reporting is generally restricted to “the United Kingdom – with occasional forays further afield”, and we do not normally stray as far as Gallifrey. However, with the welcome announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Dr Who, we feel obliged to comment – after all, in common with our respective LLMs, the TV programme has strong links with Cardiff, as is evident from a number of the National Churches Trust’s Dr Who Themed Churches.
Music Directors will probably be aware of the organ arrangement of the Dr Who theme but suspect that the Rt Revds Hardman and Treweek will quickly tire of this as an alternative to Bruckner’s Ecce sacerdos magnus at every parish church they visit; however, some enterprising organists will probably include the theme in their improvisations today.
The female headship issues were an obvious target in the Twittersphere, and although some commentators note that the CofE was there first with female bishops, there are clear parallels in their acceptance, or lack of it, in both cases. As ever, the point is well made in Fr Alderson’s Beaker Folk blogs On a Male Doctor and Gallifreyan Synod Report and a more serious consideration in the Revd Bosco Peters’ post A Female Christ and Dr Who.
Playing cricket. I get to the crease. Wicketkeeper asks: "are you really a bishop?"
"Does that mean you have to run diagonally?"
— Graham Tomlin (@gtomlin) July 20, 2017
Sexual orientation and ‘British values’
Further to the item above about the Ofsted inspection of the Vishnitz Girls’ School in Hackney, readers of this blog may be interested in the reply to a question I asked about the case at this month’s General Synod meeting in York:
“Mr David Lamming (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) to ask the Chair of the National Society Council:
According to a report in The Independent newspaper on 26 June 2017, the Vishnitz Girls School, a private Orthodox Jewish school in North London for girls aged 3 to 8, has reportedly failed its third Ofsted inspection for failing to “teach pupils about all the protected characteristics [under the Equalities Act 2010], particularly those relating to gender-reassignment and sexual orientation”, Ofsted stating that “this means that pupils have a limited understanding of the different lifestyles and partnerships that individuals may choose in present-day society.” What implications does this have for Church of England primary schools, and what representation has the Council made to the Department for Education (or will it be making) in the light of Ofsted’s ruling in this case?
The Very Revd Dr Frances Ward to reply on behalf of the Chair of the National Society Council:
In February 2015, the Government placed a duty on schools to prevent extremism and promote British values which include: challenging extremist views; understanding the importance of identifying and challenging discrimination; and the acceptance of individual liberty and mutual respect. Ofsted Inspections make judgements based on how well a school promotes all forms of equality and fosters greater understanding of and respect for people of all faiths (and those of no faith), races, genders, ages, disability and sexual orientations (and other groups with protected characteristics).
Our vision for education promotes dignity and respect. We are updating our resource on the prevention of homophobic bullying to reflect this positive vision as well as the new Duty. The government is committed to working with the church as new statutory Relationships and Sex Education is developed to ensure that it can be delivered in an age appropriate way within the context of church schools.”
(Frances Ward gave the reply as the Bishop of Ely was absent. I understand, however, that the reply was drafted by an officer of the National Society Council. Readers will note that the written reply avoided a direct answer to the question.)
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