Law and religion round-up – 2nd June

A week largely spent poring over the entrails of the EP election results and the Prime Minister’s announcement of her forthcoming departure…

… on which we shall say no more, since no matter who analyses the results, it always seems to be a case of MRDA (Mandy Rice-Davies Applies).

Racism and politics

As we noted, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has announced a statutory inquiry into alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party. The Muslim Council of Great Britain has since issued a formal request to the EHRC to investigate alleged Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

Sikhs and the Census 2021

Leigh Day, acting on behalf of the Sikh Federation, has sent a letter before action to the Cabinet Office arguing that it would be unlawful not to include a Sikh ethnicity tick-box on the 2021 Census form, as was recommended by the Office of National Statistics last year.

The Census 2011 recorded about 430,000 Sikhs based on a non-mandatory question about religion; however, not everyone who would identify as ethnically Sikh would identify as religiously Sikh and the Federation estimates that there are, in fact, about 700,000 to 800,000 ethnic Sikhs in the UK. The Federation argues in its letter before action that any attempt to understand data on ethnic Sikhs using religious data only would yield inaccurate results and that if no satisfactory response is received to the letter it will consider initiating judicial review proceedings.

DfE home-schooling consultation

In April this year we posted Home-schooling and local authority registration on the DfE’s new consultation, Children not in school: proposed legislation, it which it is seeking views online on its proposals to require local authorities to maintain registers of children who do not attend mainstream schools and to place associated duties on parents and on the proprietors of certain educational settings. In its confusingly-titled post Is the government trying to regulate Sunday school?, Premier’s YCW (Youth and Children’s Work) quotes Simon McCrossan, head of public policy at the Evangelical Alliance, as describing the proposals as “Far-reaching” and “bureaucratic”. The article states: “This ambiguity has concerned Christian groups including the Evangelical Alliance. They are particularly angry that these plans bear a ‘striking resemblance’ to previously rejected plans to regulate activities like Sunday school”.

However, it also quotes Justin Humphreys, executive director of thirtyone:eight, formerly the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service, who said: “The consultation makes it clear that it is concerned to understand the experience of children who may be attending unknown provision ‘during school hours’. This timeframe is important as it clearly indicates that activities being provided to children outside of school hours are outside scope for this proposed legislation” – which is how we read the new consultation. The earlier consultation raised concerns about extracurricular activities such as intensive choir practices, Sunday Schools &c but the present use of “during school hours” appears to allay such concerns.

The consultation closes on 24 June 2019.

Government review into religious persecution and LGBT asylum claims

In response to a written question by Ivan Lewis MP (Bury South, Ind) on what training is provided to asylum decision-makers on how to assess religious and belief-based persecution claims, the Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, (Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration), announced:

“In order to alleviate any concerns about the way in which vulnerable claims are dealt with, a review has been commissioned to investigate the way claims based on religious grounds and LGBT+ are assessed. The aim and approach of the Review will be to ensure that empathy and religious literacy is considered by Decision Makers when assessing these highly complex claims, acknowledging the impact of their decision whilst ensuring appropriate rigour is applied as these routes can be open to fraudulent claims.”

Sharia police?

The District Court [Landgericht] in Wuppertal has fined seven men for a violation of the prohibition on uniforms. The Court found the defendants guilty of offending or aiding and abetting the prohibition on wearing uniforms, parts of uniforms or similar garments in an open-air assembly as an expression of a common political attitude. The accused had patrolled Wuppertal at night wearing safety vests emblazoned “SHARIA POLICE”; and the Court held that their actions had been such as to achieve a “suggestive-militant effect” and that they had been aware of the likely consequences of their actions. They had previously been tried and acquitted, but the Federal Court had overruled the acquittal at first instance and ordered a retrial. [With thanks to Georg Neureither.]

Notre-Dame, Paris

It was reported that on Monday evening, the French Senate approved the Government’s Notre Dame restoration bill, but required that it must be restored to the state it was before the blaze. The Government had earlier launched an international architecture competition to debate ideas on the restoration; some of the suggestions have included a rooftop garden, an ‘endless spire’ of light and a swimming pool on top of the building, but few appear to have taken into consideration the prime purpose of the cathedral, apart from the inclusion of a priest in a cappello romano in some of the drawings.

Canada, cannabis and Rastafarians

CBC carries an interesting report on the Sanctuary of the Rastafarian Order Ministry in Toronto, which provides cannabis to Rastafarians in return for donations. The proprietor is quoted as arguing that “For us, it’s sacrament, no different than the Catholic Church. They have wine, we have cannabis.”

Recreational cannabis was made legal in Canada in October 2018 and there is little precedent to indicate how any possible court case would turn out should the legality of this be challenged. Prof Benjamin Berger, of York University, suggests that the 2018 legalisation would likely be a factor in any legal arguments over whether the Rastafarian Church is committing any crime; however, he also points out that, though there is “reasonably broad protection” for freedom of religion under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “no rights are absolute in Canada, and that includes freedom of religion”.

Blogs, Twitter and libel

Catherine Baksi has a salutary piece in The Guardian about the development of defamation law in relation to social media: Landmarks in law: Sally Bercow and the first major ‘Twibel’ case. Lord Garnier QC, a former Solicitor General who represented Lord McAlpine in his action against Mrs Bercow, said that the case “certainly made it clear to ‘kitchen table’ bloggers and social media users that the same principles that govern defamation law for newspapers and other formal media publications apply to them.”

Nothing at all to do with religion but a great deal to do with media law and, as “kitchen table bloggers” ourselves, an issue that is always at the back of our minds. The full judgment is at McAlpine v Bercow [2013] EWHC 981 (QB).

Quick Links

And finally…I

The BBC reports that, in a highly unusual interaction between law and religion, a driver in Germany caught on a speed camera escaped a €105 fine because his face was hidden by the outspread wings of a snow-white dove. The police suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that perhaps “it was no coincidence the Holy Spirit” had intervened and said that they would “leave the speeder in peace this time.”

And finally…II

Corrections and clarifications in The Guardian for 30 May included the following:

“In a long read article, we understated the Bible’s depiction of God’s industriousness when we said he “created everything in seven days”. According to the Book of Genesis, God needed only six days to achieve this feat and was able to rest on the seventh (Is the Anthropocene upon us?, 30 May, page 9, Journal).

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