Law and religion round-up – 20th May


Having posted an earlier draft because Frank, stupidly, hit the wrong button, this is the authentic version

Civil partnership and no-fault divorce

Two cases in the Supreme Court last week were of more than passing interest to law and religion geeks aficionados. Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan appealed against the decision in Steinfeld & Anor v Secretary of State for Education [2017] EWCA Civ 81, arguing that the bar on civil partnership for opposite sex couples is in breach of Article 14 (discrimination) ECHR together with Article 8 (respect for private and family life): brief summary here. Next, argument was heard in Owens v Owens [2017] EWCA Civ 182, in which Mrs Tini Owens is seeking a divorce from her husband on the grounds that their marriage has irretrievably broken down because of his unreasonable behaviour – which he successfully disputed at first instance and in the Court of Appeal: brief summary here.

Both cases could go either way: Steinfeld because it was a split decision – Arden LJ would have allowed the appeal in part – and Owens because the Court of Appeal was clearly unhappy about the current law, dismissing Mrs Owens’ arguments with, in the words of Hallett LJ at [99], “no enthusiasm whatsoever”. Watch this space.

Civil partnerships and the Church of England

The Government has issued the Policy Paper The Future Operation of Civil Partnership: Gathering Further Information in which it announces its intention to gather additional information with a view to bringing forward proposals for the future of civil partnership. The Paper comments:

“[28]. By September 2019 we will have access to four full years of data on civil partnership formation following the introduction of marriage for same-sex couples. We will also have completed the activities set out above, giving us the information we need to make a well-informed assessment of potential demand for civil partnerships by early 2020

[29]. Once these activities are completed the Government would be able to bring forward a set of proposals for how the law should be changed as part of a full public consultation. At the earliest, we would anticipate being able to consult on the future operation of civil partnerships in 2020.”

This news has attracted a negative response from the Church of England. The Church does not allow gay clergy to marry, but it does permit them to enter into civil partnerships provided they promise to remain celibate.

The Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, the C of E’s Director of Mission and Public Affairs, has called for civil partnerships to remain in place:

“We believe that Civil Partnerships still have a place, including for some Christian LGBTI couples who see them as a way of gaining legal recognition of their relationship … Even if the Government’s current information-gathering exercise reveals only a small number are taking up Civil Partnerships, we hope it will remain an option.”

And, for what it’s worth, we, too, subscribe to the retention of civil partnership.

Same sex marriage and the Church of Scotland

Yesterday (Saturday), the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland voted by 345 to 170 to instruct the Legal Questions Committee to draft legislation, for consideration in two years’ time, to allow Ministers and Deacons who wish to do so to conduct same sex marriages.

The Archbishop of Canterbury on disestablishment

On Friday, in an interview with The Guardian, the Archbishop of Canterbury touched fairly briefly on the prospect of disestablishment:

“’Would it be a disaster? No,’ he says, adding, ‘Nothing is a disaster with God.’ Establishment is ‘a conglomeration of different bits of history. There’s no Establishment of the Church of England Act that you could repeal – it’s a complicated process. And if you mean, by privilege, that the Archbishop of Canterbury is often involved in royal weddings, or crowns the monarch, or whatever, that’s really a decision for parliament and the people.’

But neither would disestablishment be liberating for the church. ‘It wouldn’t make any of that [the grassroots social action] easier, as far as I can tell, because that’s all done at a local level. We’re an incredibly delegated, dispersed organisation. All of those things happen because local Christians reach out to those around them, with other faith communities, with those of no faith; they do all that because they follow Christ. So I don’t think [disestablishment] would make it easier, and I don’t think it would make it more difficult.’”

Hate-speech and the CPS

Jeremy Bedford-Turner was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment at Southwark Crown Court on a count of stirring up racial hatred, after a speech at the Cenotaph in 2015 in which he called for his “soldiers” to liberate England from “Jewish control”. The Crown Prosecution Service had initially declined to prosecute him and reconsidered only after judicial review proceedings brought by the Campaign Against Antisemitism. According to the BBC’s report, Bedford-Turner said “let’s free England from Jewish control. Let’s liberate this land … Listen, soldiers, listen to me. It’s time to liberate our country.”

A CPS spokesman said that the initial decision not to prosecute, and the subsequent review, had followed its code for prosecutors:

“The CPS initially decided the evidential test set out in the code had not been met but agreed to reconsider the case after the High Court gave permission for a full judicial review of the original decision.”

Religious symbols at work?

We duly reported Equalities Minister Victoria Atkins’s announcement to the Sunday Express that the Government Equalities Office proposes to publish updated guidance on wearing religious dress or symbols in the workplace. Entirely believable – but we still can’t find any official source for the statement. On Friday, the Government Equalities Office published Dress codes and sex discrimination–what you need to know – but the only mention of religious symbols was as follows:

Where can I find out information about work wear or jewellery that an employee might ask to wear for religious reasons?

If you decide you want to implement a dress code or uniform policy, you must ensure that this does not directly or indirectly discriminate against employees with a particular religion or belief or no religion or belief. The Equality and Human Rights Commission publishes guidance on dress codes and religious symbols, which can be found here.”

The link is to advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission that was last updated in March 2017.

Chief Coroner’s Guidance: decision-making and expedited guidance

On 17 May, we reported that HH Judge Mark Lucraft QC, Chief Coroner, had issued Guidance No. 28: Report of Death to Coroner: Decision Making and Expedited Decisions, following the judgment of the Administrative Court in R (Adath Yisroel Burial Society) v Senior Coroner for Inner North London [2018] EWHC 969 (Admin). This prompted the NSS to publish a piece with the somewhat misleading headline “No need to prioritise requests based on religion, says chief coroner”; however, the text of the article was more nuanced and commenced “Coroners in England and Wales are not obliged to give automatic priority to requests which come from particular religious communities” [our emphasis]; this appears to capture the overall thrust of the guidance.

Intercommunion and the President of Germany

While matters of purely private church law are not really our concern, we were intrigued at the Catholic Herald report that no less a figure than the President of Germany had called on the Roman Catholic Church to allow Protestants to receive communion. Speaking at the Katholikentag conference in Münster, President Steinmeier said: “Let us seek ways of expressing the common Christian faith by sharing in the Last Supper and Communion. I am sure: thousands of Christians in interdenominational marriages are hoping for this.” He emphasised that he was speaking not as President but “as an avowed Evangelical Christian who lives in an interdenominational marriage”. According to the report, he also criticised the Bavarian Government’s recent decision to erect crosses in public buildings.

The Vatican has not ruled on whether or not a proposal by a group of German bishops to allow Protestants married to Roman Catholics to receive communion under certain circumstances violates Church teaching. Seven bishops, including Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne, had challenged the proposal and asked the Vatican to intervene, but Pope Francis urged the bishops to come to an agreement amongst themselves. There is more about the story in CNA Deutsch.

Counselling same sex couples

Kathleen Lorentzen, a licensed clinical social worker and a Roman Catholic, has filed a religious discrimination lawsuit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against her former employer, HealthSource Saginaw. In Lorentzen v Healthsource Saginaw, Inc., (ED MI, filed 11 May 2018), she alleges that she was subjected to demeaning, threatening and abusive actions and finally sacked after she had insisted on referring a same sex couple to a different therapist for marriage counselling because of her beliefs about the nature of marriage. She claims that her treatment was in breach of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964, as amended, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex and national origin[With thanks to Howard Friedman.]

Any resemblance to the facts in McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd [2010] EWCA Civ 880 and, on appeal, in Eweida and Others v United Kingdom [2013] ECHR 37 is entirely intentional. It will be interesting to see whether Title VII has more traction than Article 9 did.

L&RUK and the GDPR

As announced in our Data protection policy statement, on Thursday 24 May we will delete the e-mail addresses of all existing e-mail subscribers. We realise that this is a total pain, but it seems to us to be the only way of making sure that we comply with the GDPR.

To continue receiving e-mail notifications, it will be necessary to resubscribe on 25 May or thereafter. We are also preparing a Privacy Statement outlining how we hold readers’ e-mail addresses – no other information is held.

Other blogs and GDPR

We are not alone in preparing for the European Regulation, and some blogs with a larger following have indicated that they will not be posting for two or three days in order to prepare for the new legislation.

This week, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life issued “Cor Orans“, the Implementing Instruction of the Apostolic Constitution “Vultum Quaerere” on Women’s Contemplative Life. Section II, The Means of Communication, contains provisions relating to social communications which “must therefore be used with sobriety and discretion, not only with regard to the contents but also to the quantity of information and the type of communication”. This drew a riposte from Dame Catherine Wybourne OSB, (a.k.a. “Digitalnun”), Nuns and Social Media, in which she expressed despair and irritation:

“despair, because yet again the Vatican shows itself to be out of touch with the reality of women’s (i.e. not just nuns’) lives…; irritation, because with all the world’s problems, to devote time and energy to something that…most nuns have already thought and prayed about sufficiently to have arrived at a sensible decision regarding its appropriate use, is embarrassing”.

Dame Catherine notes:

“It seems to be only a few years ago that we nuns laughed about being given permission to use fax machines, with due discretion and limitations, naturally, and were tempted to email our response, only the Vatican wasn’t using email at the time!”

More serious, however, is her comment:

“I have never been entirely convinced that there are two differing forms of spirituality, one masculine and the other feminine, with the masculine needing comparatively few rules and the feminine needing very close regulation. If Pope Francis is serious about using the gifts of all the Church’s members, then I genuinely believe that he and all the other senior clergy must take seriously the fact that women are not second-class beings. We can be as intelligent, well-educated, fervent and disciplined as any man. To presume that we are somehow lacking in any of those qualities is deeply insulting”.

Quick links

And finally…I

One of the more unusual searches that picked up the blog: can you be forced to christen a child in the UK? Answer: ‘no’ – but what, we wonder, gave the questioner the idea that the answer might conceivably be ‘yes’?

And finally…II

Arguably the barmiest spam e-mail of 2018 so far:

“You must see this picture (if you haven’t yet)….

God exists see image

A friend forwarded me this video ……and I’m speechless. It provides photographic PROOF that God exists.”

Utterly, utterly bonkers – whatever your theological preferences.

2 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 20th May

  1. One of the more unusual searches that picked up the blog: can you be forced to christen a child in the UK? Answer: ‘no’ – but what, we wonder, gave the questioner the idea that the answer might conceivably be ‘yes’?


    John Henley

  2. Pingback: More answers to readers’ comments and queries – August and September | Law & Religion UK

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