Law and religion round-up – 17th June

Trinity Western was probably the main news of the week, but the likely abolition of blasphemy in Ireland may prove of wider importance in the longer term.

Trinity Western

On Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down two judgments in the long-running saga of Trinity Western Law School; Trinity Western lost in both of them and we noted them, briefly, here. Given that they will be scrutinised and dissected at great length by Canadian academics – and others – far better qualified than we are to assess their likely future impact, we aim to say no more on the subject.

Ireland and blasphemy

Part of Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution of Ireland states that “The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.” Readers may recall that during its committee stage in 2009, the then  Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, introduced an amendment to what became the Defamation Act 2009 creating a new indictable offence of “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter” with a maximum fine of €25,000. The then President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, convened the Council of State to discuss whether the Bill should be referred to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality but, in the end, decided not to do so. The Act came into force on 1 January 2010.

RTÉ now reports that the Government has approved the holding of a referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution. It is expected to take place in October, possibly on the same day as the Presidential election.

Geneva and laïcité

On 26 April 26, the Grand Council of the Canton of Geneva adopted draft law 11764 on the laïcité of the Canton. A working group was established in 2013 to study the scope of Article 3 of the Geneva Constitution of 14 October 2012 and, after consultation with interested parties, the Conseil d’Etat sent a draft bill to the Grand Council in November 2015. After two years of discussions in the Human Rights Commission, a report on the draft law was sent to the Grand Council in January 2018 for a plenary vote.

Specifically, the new law on secularism defines the principle of laïcité. According to the Canton’s Department of Security and the Economy:

  • it guarantees the state’s neutrality in religious affairs;
  • it provides the public with relevant and neutral information on religious issues, for example in the fight against sectarian abuse and religious extremism;
  • it promotes interreligious dialogue and approaches to fostering a common understanding by requiring objective and neutral teaching about religion in schools; and
  • it allows religious organisations that respect the rule of law to worship freely.

Not everyone is entirely happy, however. The Green Party intends to seek review of the new law at the Constitutional Court, arguing that a paragraph of Article 3 that prohibits members of the cantonal and communal parliaments from wearing of ostentatious religious symbols at sittings violates individual freedoms and the principle of non-discrimination guaranteed by the Constitution of Geneva. There is also the possibility that the new law will be the subject of a referendum, provided 5,227 valid signatures can be collected by 20 June.

While welcoming much in the new law, the Swiss Evangelical Alliance has expressed concern that cantonal civil servants will not be allowed to manifest their religious affiliations “through words or external symbols”, It is also concerned that the law introduces a distinction between religious worship and religious manifestations that are not related to worship. The law says that, with some exceptions, worship must be kept in the private domain – and the Alliance has asked how the administration and justice will respond to the theological question of what is worship of what is not? Discuss…

Music at civil marriage ceremonies

Searches on L&RUK frequently concern the inclusion of religious content in a civil marriage ceremony, and the standard response is to refer to our post “Religious” content of civil marriage ceremonies. This week there was a search “can you use at last in a civil ceremony” – confusing until we (ie David – Frank’s never heard of it) realized it was the ability to use the song “At Last” that the questioner was seeking. Whilst not wishing to predict the decision of a particular Registrar, a quick internet search came across the article by James Davey, To ‘Ave’ or to hold: why certain music is banned from the civil marriage ceremony, which indicated that At Last!, made famous by Etta James in the 1960s, is apparently one of the most requested recessional songs for civil ceremonies.

In addition to useful advice on the choice of music, Davey made an intriguing suggestion on how, with the approval of the Registrar, it may be possible to introduce religious material and comply with the legal requirements for a civil ceremony, by defining when the “Proceedings” would begin and end, i.e. sandwiching the civil part in the presence of the Registrar between a “religious” introit and recessional. However, we would not wish to raise a couple’s expectations, and prospective wedding planners should refer to Davey’s original article rather than this post – what worked for Classic FM’s Chairman, Lord Allen of Kensington, at Kensington Palace may not work for everyone.

Archbishop Sheen’s remains to be moved to Illinois

Readers may recall that, in December last year, we noted  the Vatican’s revised directions on beatification and the peripheral issue of the legal dispute between two US Roman Catholic dioceses as to which should hold the remains of Archbishop Fulton Sheen: Cunningham v Trustees of St Patrick’s Cathedral (a.k.a. “What is to be done with the body of Archbishop Fulton Sheen?”). On 8 June 2018, a New York trial court ruled that the remains should be moved from a crypt in New York’s St Patrick’s Cathedral to a Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois, where he was ordained as a priest.

The Court relied on the belief of Sheen’s niece that the move is the only way to advance the Cause for Sheen being declared a saint. Peoria’s Bishop Daniel Jenky was the Promoter for the Cause of Sainthood for Sheen but refused to continue his advocacy until Sheen’s remains were moved, while the New York Archdiocese was not interested in promoting the sainthood Cause. The court concluded:

“The evidentiary hearing revealed that the location of Archbishop Sheen’s final resting place would not have been his primary concern; his focus was on souls rather than the location of earthly remains … [B]ecoming a saint would allow Archbishop Sheen to accomplish his highest calling – to reach as many believers as possible and to intercede on their behalf”.

[With thanks to Howard Friedman at Religion Clause]

Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure 2018 (Commencement and Transitional Provision) Order 2018

The Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure 2018 (Commencement and Transitional Provision) Order 2018 was made on 13 June. It brings the substantive provisions of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction and Care of Churches Measure 2018 into effect on 1 September 2018 and makes transitional provision in connection with the coming into force of certain of those provisions.

Section 99 of the Measure provided for the technical provisions on commencement, extent and short title to come into force on Royal Assent.

Quick links

And finally … I

Apropos our post Asbestos in pipe organs which considered the potential risks of asbestos in organ blower boxes, on a recent visit to the church of St Lawrence, Lechlade, Gloucestershire, David’s partner spotted the following memorial:

In affectionate and grateful memory of Alfred George, born 1853 died 1928, for 40 years sexton and 63 years organ blower in this church

They certainly start them young in Gloucestershire.

And finally … II

Whilst on the topic of organs, the Church Times reports that the PCC of St Mary’s, Maldon, has taken the decision to abandon plans to purchase a new organ from Hey Orgelbau in Bavaria on account of the uncertainty of VAT payments, post-Brexit: the organ builder cannot complete before March 2019, and whilst currently the £50,000 VAT could be reclaimed, the PCC is said to believe that this is unlikely when the UK leaves the European Union.

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