Law and religion round-up – 17th September

Brexit (inevitably), school dress codes, clergy employment, humanist marriage, religious karaoke – another mixed bag…


On Monday, the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was given its second reading: Ayes, 326: Noes: 290. The Bill stands committed to a Committee of the whole House for eight days of detailed debate.

The Scottish Government and the Welsh Government both declined to recommend that legislative consent be given to the Bill by their legislatures unless it is amended to address their specific concerns.

Primary school uniform

Also on Monday, we reported the case of a husband and wife who had withdrawn their six-year-old son from his Church of England primary school after a boy in his class was allowed to wear a dress to school. They are threatening legal action; and we suggested that the right of a child with gender dysphoria not to be discriminated against was probably protected by s.7 Equality Act 2010. But we cannot help wondering whether there is a more basic issue of unequal treatment here: would anyone have batted an eyelid if a six-year-old girl had demanded the right to wear trousers and a sweatshirt to school?

Dreadlocks and cornrows

And while we’re on the subject of education, the London Evening Standard reported that a pupil at Fulham Boys School – a free school – has demanded that a twelve-year-old Rastafarian boy, Chikayzea Flanders, cut off his dreadlocks to adhere to its uniform policy.  He is currently being taught in isolation. The school says that its uniform policy is well known to prospective parents, while his mother argues that the demand is religious discrimination and an attack on her Rastafarian culture:  her son has dreadlocks because he is a Rastafarian, not as a fashion choice.

Readers may possibly remember G v St Gregory’s Catholic Science College [2011] EWHC 1452 (Admin), in which Collins J held that the refusal to allow an Afro-Caribbean boy to wear his hair in cornrows was unjustified indirect race discrimination.

Humanist marriage in Northern Ireland

Humanists UK reports that the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal has decided to issue a further stay on the ruling of Colton J in the High Court to give the various parties to the case can have more time to attempt to negotiate a compromise solution.

According to the report, the NICA invited the parties to explore an alternative avenue to that which had been considered before: that the Registrar General can under article 31(3) Marriage (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 “appoint additional persons to solemnise civil marriages and carry out other functions”. Humanists UK has now been invited to work with a number of its celebrants to apply for permission to solemnise humanist marriages on that basis. The terms of the stay have not been published on the NI Courts and Tribunals Service website.

Are clergy “employees”?

Where a cleric has been dismissed after internal disciplinary proceedings and has claimed unfair dismissal, there has been an increasing tendency by the UK courts to look at the ecclesiology of the denomination concerned and to determine the claim on the basis of  the denomination’s understanding of its relationship with its clergy: the classic example is Methodist Conference v Preston [2013] UKSC 29, which we noted at the time.

In short, whether or not a minister of religion is “employed” turns on the facts of the individual case; and the decision of the Grand Chamber ECtHR in Károly Nagy v Hungary [2017] ECHR 782 has given considerable support to this approach: we noted it here.

Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme to continue

The Church of England’s Church Buildings Council has received written confirmation from the Heritage Minister, John Glen MP, that following the General Election the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme will continue at its current levels until March 2020.

There are no changes planned to the eligibility criteria or application process. More information on applying can be found on the Scheme’s dedicated website.

A first for the Lords Spiritual

Maeve Sherlock, Labour peer and  Shadow DWP Minister tweeted

At the time when the Lords Spiritual (Women) Act 2015 came into force, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson was the most senior diocesan bishop and but for the Act would have been the next to become a Lord Spiritual when a vacancy arose. It is fitting, therefore, that his two supporters were the Bishops of Gloucester and Newcastle, who “overtook” him under these time-limited provisions.

Independent Reviewer’s Report

On Friday, the Church of England published the report of the Independent Reviewer on the issues surrounding the appointment to the See of Sheffield, and we reproduced the Press Release containing links to the report and other material. Both Women in the Church (WATCH) and Forward in Faith (FiF) have now issued responses, which we reproduced here. On Thursday, the Church issued a  Press Release following the annual meeting of the College of Bishops in Oxford from 11-14 September. Surprisingly, it makes no mention of the Independent Reviewer’s report, although it would be unusual if the bishops had not discussed it.

‘Religious karaoke’ and the demise of the hymn book

Last week we published Balancing mission, aesthetics and heritage of parish churches – further considerations,  which followed an earlier post on the subject in October 2014 and was prompted by Re St Mary and St Cuthbert Chester-le-Street [2017] ECC Dur 1, about a petition which sought, inter alia, to introduce four 50-inch LCD monitors into the nave of a Grade I church.

Although high-profile consistory court cases tend to attract media attention, we were surprised at its inclusion in the Daily Mail under the headline Churches close their hymn books and turn to big screen ‘religious karaoke’ in bid to win back the faithful. The article correctly reported a number of facts associated with the increasing use of IT systems over hymn books albeit in “Daily Mail speak”, but thankfully without gratuitous capitalization; however, some of the statements made were wide of the mark, including:

“A licensing company responsible for giving churches the green light to install the modern systems said tens of thousands are in the process of moving to a karaoke-type system which can cost up to £50,000.

David Churchyard, operations manager at Christian Copyright Licensing International, told the Sunday Telegraph it now has 24,500 sites in the UK on its books, up from 20,300 in 2014”.

No prizes for spotting the error and the incorrect assumption about CCLI licensing operations.

The director of the Surrey-based company Hymn Technology claimed that the “electronic hymnal device” is already helping churches to revive flagging congregations. If only such evidence had been available in a form acceptable to the court in Re St Mary and St Cuthbert Chester-le-Street, where Chancellor Bursell said:

“[34]. …I accept the incumbent’s evidence that the number of TV screens being used in churches increases month by month. It would therefore have been possible for the petitioners to produce evidence in relation to the mission effects of such screens in other churches…

I accept that this is the firm conviction of both the petitioners and the PCC but it cannot amount to actual evidence in a court of law. It follows that there is no evidence before me to show that the introduction of TV screens would be likely to increase the church’s mission.”

Forthcoming conference

New publication

Alex Deagon: From Violence to Peace: Theology, Law and Community: the author is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. He argues that the legal system and the ideal of individual and communal relationship that it envisages are characterised by antagonism and alienation, or more broadly, violence. He contends that the way to restore a legal community of peace is to return to a Christian theology informed by Trinitarian thinking or the notion of unity in diversity and reuniting faith with reason. That would allow peaceful persuasion by the revelation of God’s perfect being through the Trinity and Incarnation, which models and enables the peaceful coexistence of difference through self-sacrificing love, and, in turn, produce the law of love – to love your neighbour as yourself.  Since love does no wrong to a neighbour, a legal community operating by the law of love can fulfil the obligations of law by going beyond merely what is required by law and love individuals as part of a community.

Emphatically not one for Quaker/Unitarian legal positivists – but for those interested it’s available at a 20% discount price of £56: click here to order online and use the discount code CV7 at the checkout.

Other publications

For readers who have not yet purchased a copy (ie almost all of them), Religion and Legal Pluralism, edited by Russell Sandberg, published by Routledge and with chapters by Frank, David, Mark Hill, Gillian Douglas and others, is now out in paperback at £34.99. And for those unable to pick up a copy at Greenbelt, Gary Alderson’s Writes of the Church is to be published on Friday, 22 September, a snip at £6.99.

Quick links

And finally…I

Don’t know about it being a case for us – but we’d have thought that simply buying the paper deed couldn’t possibly mean that you would acquire the title to the grave as well, not least because ground consecrated to the use of the Church of England is inalienable in perpetuity unless subsequently deconsecrated – which, since it’s in a churchyard, it almost certainly won’t have been. Any burial law specialists out there with an expert opinion?

And finally…II

After the 1990s British comedy film Nuns on the Run (which included Robbie Coltrane’s memorable instructions on how to cross oneself), Hurricane Irma has now brought us a “chain-saw-wielding nun”. The Washington Post reports:

“Sister Margaret Ann principal of Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School in Miami, said the street from her convent to the campus was blocked Monday by downed trees, forcing drivers to steer onto the sidewalk, where they were sliding in mud and debris … she walked out to SW 104th Street wielding a roaring power tool — and praying for those who were affected by the storm”.

The Miami-Dade police video shows Sister Margaret Ann in action – but others who might wish to replicate her commendable public spirit should note that a Carmelite habit is not the ideal Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), particularly in a high wind.

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