Law and religion round-up – 4th August

As July drew to a close, the Government’s overall majority was reduced to one and the silly season started getting into full (golf-) swing…

Christian assemblies in schools

The High Court has granted Lee and Lizanne Harris permission to launch a judicial review against the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust over collective worship at Burford Primary School. According to The Guardian, they withdrew their children from assemblies, and argue that the school has refused to provide a meaningful alternative of equal educational worth for pupils withdrawn from Christian worship. Instead, according to the parents, the children were put in a room with an iPad and supervised by a teaching assistant.

In response, Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, has written a letter to The Times (30 July) on the Importance of Collective Worship in Schools. He states: “There is much evidence of the value of collective worship to children and young people which is why thousands of community schools also have strong partnerships with local churches and faith groups. What happens in schools must be evidence-based and should not be in response to secular pressure group campaigns.” However, this does not provide an answer to the issue raised by the Burford parents: their point is the provision of equivalent alternative education, not their legal right to withdraw a child under 16 from collective worship. (And, incidentally, several people have pointed out on Twitter that attending school worship is not compulsory in Scotland.)

More later this coming week, when we shall be publishing a guest post on the dispute by Jonathan Chaplin.

Southgate street preacher’s wrongful arrest

The Guardian reports that a Christian street preacher, Oluwole Ilesanmi, who was detained outside Southgate Tube Station in February after a 999 call claimed that he had been Islamophobic, has been awarded £2,500 for wrongful arrest. He admitted describing Islam as an “aberration” but said that he was simply expressing his opinion rather than preaching hate against Muslims. In the course of his arrest, the police confiscated his Bible and handcuffed him.

Superintendent Neil Billany, of the Metropolitan Police, told The Guardian that “The Met respects and upholds the rights of all individuals to practice freedom of speech, and this includes street preachers of all religions and backgrounds. However, if the language someone uses is perceived as being a potential hate crime, it is only right that we investigate. That is the role of the police, even if a decision is subsequently made that their actions are not criminal. In this case, it was deemed appropriate to remove the man from the area.” Which is not unreasonable – not everyone who is arrested is subsequently charged – but confiscating a Bible???

May a parish or town council grant-aid a place of worship?

Bridport & Lyme Regis News reports that Lyme Regis town councillors have agreed to give a grant £25,000 towards repairing the tower of St Michael’s Church, apparently against the advice of their Clerk:

“Town clerk John Wright reminded members of the possible risk they were taking in giving money to the church, in which legislation dating back more than 100 years states that the town council couldn’t make these sorts of grants to the Church of England, however, this had never been tested in court.”

As we reported here, the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance raised the current law’s lack of clarity in its 2017 submission to the DCMS English Churches and Cathedrals Sustainability Review, but nothing has been done since then. Not that we’re surprised.

Church Commissioners’ Questions 

On 25 July, the Rt hon Dame Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con), the Second Church Estates Commissioner, answered questions on Behaviour on Social Media, Telecommunications Masts in ParishesFCO Support for Persecuted Christians, Festivals in Cathedrals and Strategic Development Funding: Keighley. In her response to John Grogan (Keighley) (Lab), she thanked the parliamentary division in Church House, and Simon Stanley in particular, as she did not yet know if she would be renewed in post, and imagined “this is not high on the list of the Prime Minister’s priorities at the moment”. The Second Church Estates Commissioner is a Crown appointment, made on the advice of the Prime Minister, and is a member of the governing party in the House of Commons. The post-holder is required to be a confirmed lay member of the Church of England and is a member ex officio of the General Synod and of its Legislative Committee.

Discussions on Behaviour on Social Media included references to the recent appointment of the Revd Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, to the Suffragan See of Dover. The Speaker’s Chaplain is a Church of England cleric appointed by the Speaker to read daily prayers in the Chamber, to officiate at a number of religious services at Westminster and to provide pastoral care for Members and staff.

India outlaws talaq divorce

The Indian Parliament has passed much-debated and politically-contentious legislation to outlaw Muslim talaq divorce. Under the provisions of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act 2019 – “to protect the rights of married Muslim women and to prohibit divorce by pronouncing talaq by their husbands and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto” – “Any pronouncement of talaq by a Muslim husband upon his wife, by words, either spoken or written or in electronic form or in any other manner whatsoever, shall be void and illegal” and “Any Muslim husband who pronounces talaq … upon his wife shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine”. The new Act does not extend, however, to the State of Jammu and Kashmir – the population of which is about two-thirds Muslim. The Times of India carries a full report. [With thanks to Neil Addison.]

Conscience and wine-labels in Canada

The Federal Court of Canada has ruled that two wines made in Jewish settlements in the West Bank should not be labelled “Product of Israel” because the labels were false and denied Canadians the right to exercise their conscience by boycotting the wines.

In Kattenburg v Canada (Attorney General) 2019 FC 1003 (CanLII), Mactavish J noted that there were few things as difficult and intractable as Middle East politics – and especially the presence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank [125]. One peaceful way in which people could express their political views was through their purchasing decisions, but they could only do so if they had accurate information about where products came from [126]. Further, federal law required food (including wines) sold in Canada to bear “truthful, non-deceptive and non-misleading country of origin labels” [127]. The decision by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Complaints and Appeals Office (CAO) that it was permissible to label wines produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “Products of Israel” when they were not from Israel contravened s.7(1) of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act 1985 and s.5(1) of the Food and Drugs Act 1985. A decision to allow such wines to be labelled as “Products of Israel” was therefore unreasonable [129]. The application for judicial review was allowed [130], the CAO’s recommendation set aside, and the matter remitted to the CAO for redetermination [131].

Packed lunches in Italian schools

In Decision 20504 – 19, Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation has overturned the Court of Appeal and held that there is no “unconditional” right for children to bring packed lunches to school and eat them on the premises, after group of parents in Turin had argued that their children should be allowed to take their own lunches to school because lunch in the school canteen was expensive. Of the five grounds of appeal, the one most relevant to the concerns of this blog was the argument that the ban contravened the right of pupils and parents to the full and equal implementation of educational formation [piena attuazione egualitaria del progetto formativo] – including the canteen service – and that this possibly discriminated against poorer families and violated the right to health, taking into account the possible hygiene risks from children eating lunch unsupervised.

The Court held that there was no such right. Students in school could not exercise their  individual rights freely; rather, their individual development had to take place in a manner compatible with the interests of the other students and of the community at large, “taking into account the fulfilment of the duties to which the pupils are bound, of mutual respect, of sharing and tolerance” [tenendo conto dell’adempimento dei doveri cui gli alunni sono tenuti, di reciproco rispetto, di condivisione e tolleranza]. Nor was the alleged right to eat packed lunches in the school canteen comparable with the right of pupils to withdraw from the teaching of religion, because that was a specific right expressly recognised in law.

What appears to be missing from the judgment, however, is any reference to the ECHR. So what about the right of parents under Article 2 of Protocol 1 (Right to education) “to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”? Might one have legitimate “philosophical convictions” about school lunches? If the parents are sufficiently steamed up about the issue to go to Strasbourg, the ECtHR might tell us.

Archdeacons’ News

On 31 July, Norman Boakes retired as the Archdeacons’ National Development Officer (ANDO), and The Archdeacons’ Forum and the Ministry Council have announced the appointment of Cameron Watt as his successor; he will be in post on 2 September. As the executive officer, the ANDO works in support of the Archdeacons’ Forum to enable support for archdeacons; providing training and development for archdeacons; resourcing networking and ensuring excellent communication between the national church and archdeacons. Details of Cameron’s work to date are on page 2 of the June issue of Archdeacons’ News. The effectiveness of  Norman’s tenure in this role is reflected in the news that his successor and the administrative support will be funded from central funds, rather than the archdeacons having to find the finance themselves.

Yorkshire Day

On 1 August, David and  many others celebrated Yorkshire Day (though not Frank and those in Lancashire) and were reminded of all of Yorkshire’s wonderful churches, chapels and cathedrals… and minsters. On the latter, Becky Clarke pointed out that:

All cathedrals are churches.
Not all churches are cathedrals.

All minsters are churches.
Not all churches are minsters.

Some minsters are cathedrals.
Not all cathedrals are minsters.

Photo: St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale

Quick links

And finally…

Since neither of us is an aficionado of crazy golf, and the “silly season” stories relating to the summer initiative of Rochester Cathedral have little to do with ecclesiastical law, we have refrained from posting any comment on L&RUK. However, we note that the article by Liz Dodd  in The Tablet, How you can enjoy a game of crazy golf with Jesus  (wonder what His handicap might have been?), implicitly assumes that there is no difference between the ecclesiastical law applicable to churches, cathedrals and redundant churches under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. Perhaps we should point out the modern-day parable: “It is easier for a dinosaur to spend four months in a cathedral nave than for a painted dog to be displayed in a closed churchyard for ten days”.

The Guardian provided the most inventive angle on the story with its article Holey moly! Ten of the world’s most sensational minigolf courses; these included a course in Kentucky based on the Bible, “you have to avoid obstacles such as the tree of knowledge, climb Jacob’s ladder and scale Mount Sinai, the hardest and highest volcano-style hole I’ve ever seen. Then follow the star to Bethlehem on the New Testament course and watch as water turns into wine on the third – miracle-themed – course”.

Even more bizarre, however, is the funeral home in Chicago beneath which there is minigolf course where mourners can take their minds off bereavement by putting through a coffin, under a moving guillotine and through a haunted house. We suspect that arrangements such as these would fall foul of the Code of Practice for funeral directors: Scotland, on which there is an on-going consultation.

3 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 4th August

  1. “Lyme Regis town councillors have agreed to give a grant £25,000 towards repairing the tower of St Michael’s Church,” and why not?
    Parish Councils Act 1957
    2 Power to provide public clocks.
    A parish council may provide, maintain and light such public clocks within the parish as they consider necessary, and (subject to the provisions of section five of this Act) may cause them to be installed on or against any premises or in any other place the situation of which may be convenient.
    Section 5 just says you must obtain the consent of the owner and occupier of the property – of course!

    • Two points. What is a ‘public clock’? A clock that can be seen by the public, or a clock on a building in public ownership? That is a genuine question to which I simply don’t know the answer. Secondly, Lyme Regis town councillors don’t seem to be grant-aiding the clock but the tower itself. Whatever one’s view of the current law, its uncertainties were sufficient to give rise to concerns on the part of the council’s Clerk – and I continue to believe that the only solution is clarificatory legislation.

      • I endorse your point about the uncertainties of the current law.
        Apologies, I should have said there is a clock-face high up on the tower just below the parapet – no tower = no clock?
        As to the ‘public clock’ question I feel that section 5 is indicative that it can be on a non-publically owned building where the clock is clearly visible to the public.
        As a former parish council clerk, another avenue might be s.137 Local Government Act 1972 (Power of local authorities to incur expenditure for certain purposes not otherwise authorised): “which in their opinion is in the interests of, and will bring direct benefit to, their area or any part of it or all or some of its inhabitants,” and “the direct benefit accruing to their area or any part of it or to all or some of the inhabitants of their area will be commensurate with the expenditure to be incurred.”

        But in s.137 there is a complex formula, taking into account the size of the local population, that limits the annual amount expended. It is unfortunate that neither the Town Clerk nor the councillors appear to justify their positions by reference to specific legislation.

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