Law and religion round-up – 8th March

A week almost totally dominated by …

… Coronavirus (COVID-19): “the KISS of Peace?”

As non-experts in this area, this blog and our respective tweets do not give advice per se but focus on the guidance issued by the churches and the national authorities. Further to our earlier posts on the advice given by Anglican churches in the UK, on 5 March we were independently burning the midnight oil to summarize the latest revised guidance on coronavirus (COVID-19) produced – separately – by the Church of England and by the Church in Wales. The former post attempts to provide access, with a couple of clicks of the mouse, to the issues within the CofE guidance, which appeared to be of most relevance to clergy, PCCs and parishioners. A number of dioceses, such as Oxford, have produced their own approach to the C of E’s guidance.

As we noted in our last round-up, on 28 February the Church of Ireland issued Covid-19: Guidance for parishes, which links to Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) advice, Coronavirus(COVID-19) guidance for religious services, page 4 of which gives specific measures which may be taken. On 6 March, the Scottish Episcopal Church, which had previously been following that issued by the Church of England, issued its own guidance after taking independent medical advice.

An important difference has now emerged between that produced by the Church of England and that by the Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of Ireland. The latter Churches take a stronger line on the Common Cup and the Peace; for example, the C in W advises “that public administration of the chalice should cease in the Church in Wales until further notice” and strongly advises that “physical sharing of the Peace be discontinued until further notice”. The guidance from the Church of England has shifted from “no need to suspend the common cup at present” to “the incumbent should take a view”. Combined with the different approaches adopted by the other Churches in the UK and the information circulating in the media (below), this appears to have given rise to uncertainty and a degree of confusion among C of E clergy. Furthermore, whilst the page Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for churches includes today’s date, (Sunday 8 March 2020 at the time of writing), that providing information specific to clergy, other ministers &c and leadership teams indicates “Last updated 5/3/20 (20:02)”.

[Note: [1] This has now been changed and both pages include the “Last updated” message. In all our posts on L&RUK, we include links to our latest summary of the current advice from Anglican churches within the UK.

[2] Since this guidance was issued, there have been a number of updates within the Church of England and elsewhere, and these are now listed in a separate post, which itself is updated frequently.]

One should not forget that much of the responsibility lies, literally, in the hands of the congregation and parishioners. In addition to personal hygiene, those with concerns with contamination of the wine have the option of receiving in one kind – as one does on Good Friday. However, for those issuing guidance, the best approach is the application of the management acronym, KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

… Coronavirus (COVID-19): other information

We have noted the paucity of sound scientific information, and the plethora of unqualified advice in the media and social media. With regard to the latter, Full Fact has analysed a Facebook post that has been shared hundreds of thousands of times and which makes a number of claims about the symptoms of COVID-19 and ways to prevent the disease – concluding that “The claims are a mixture of accurate and inaccurate [information].” Consequently, two important questions one should ask are:

  • who produced the advice and the information on which it is based? and
  • when was that advice issued?

This was emphasized in the Premier Christian Post headline on 3 March, which claimed Catholic Church bans holy water and sharing hymn books to protect against coronavirus as cases surge; in fact, the advice from Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, version 2, 27 February 2020, was that these measures would not apply to “Stage 1: Current status (very few cases in the UK, no cases in local parishes)” – the advice from the Catholic Bishops addresses three scenarios in total.

Sacrament Act 1547 and other legislation

Returning to ecclesiastical law basics, we reminded ourselves of the still-extant Section VIII Sacrament Act 1547, which states [emphasis added]:

“saide moste blessed sacrament be hereafter commenlie delivered and ministred unto the people, within this Churche of Englande and Irelande and other the Kings Dominions, under bothe the Kyndes, that is to saie of breade and wyne, excepte necessitie otherwise require”.

Matthew Chinery observed: the 1547 Act has binding legal force in Wales (as part of the Ecclesiastical Law inherited at disestablishment and not disapplied by the Governing Body of the Church in Wales); the 39 Articles are an historic formulary of the Church, but not of binding legal effect of themselves; and under the Statute Law Revision Act 1953, the 1547 Act is no longer applicable in Northern Ireland.

More recently, under the Health Protection (Notification) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 SI 237, laid before Parliament on 6 March 2020 and coming into force immediately, COVID-19 has been added to the list of notifiable diseases in Schedule 1 to the Health Protection (Notification) Regulations 2010 (S.I. 2010/659). It is applicable only to England.

With regard to individual cups for communion, in addition to the advice of the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre, Ireland, against their use, advice from the Legal Advisory Commission of General Synod: Holy Communion – Administration of the Sacrament,(September 2011), concludes:

“3 (a)(iii) … it is contrary to law [of the Church of England] for individual cups to be used for each communicant, or for an individual communicant, even if such cups were to be individually consecrated by the president and delivered individually by the minister (including a lay person duly authorised by the bishop under Canon B 12, para. 3) to the communicant.

(iv) In all these circumstances it is the opinion of the Legal Advisory Commission that Canon B 5, para 1, which permits the minister in his discretion to “make and use variations which are not of substantial importance” in any authorised form of service, does not allow the minister to authorise the use of individual cups.”

With thanks to Andrew Foreshew-Cain for bringing this to our attention. 

Marriage law in England & Wales

On Monday, there were two Commons Written Answers on aspects of marriage law.

Paul Blomfield (Lab, Sheffield Central) asked the Home Secretary about the timing of the Regulations necessary to introduce an electronic registration system for marriages [18774] – to which the reply was that “The General Register Office (GRO) is currently working on the secondary legislation, IT systems and administrative processes that are required to implement the marriage schedule system”.

Bambos Charalambous (Lab, Enfield, Southgate) asked the Secretary of State for Justice “what assessment he has made of the financial effect on couples wishing to have a humanist wedding of the requirement to also have a civil ceremony in order for their marriage to be lawfully recognised” [18961]. In reply, he was told that the Government had consulted in 2014 on marriages by non-religious belief organisations and its summary assessment of costs and benefits had been published in its response to that consultation. Which looks like “no change” – or at least no change unless and until the Law Commission makes a recommendation on provision for humanist weddings.

Ethical veganism as a protected belief

Sadly for law and religion geeks like us – but, no doubt, to the relief of both parties – Mr Jordi Casamitjana and the League Against Cruel Sports settled their action over Mr Casamitjana’s claim of unfair dismissal. Unfortunately, the settlement still leaves open the question as to whether or not vegetarianism – as opposed to veganism – should also be regarded as a protected belief. Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe suggested in R (Williamson) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment [2005] UKHL 15 at [55] that it should: in both his recent judgments, however, Employment Judge Postle has taken the opposite view. Discuss…

Vicarious liability for sexual abuse

The BBC reports that a man, known as “Victim T”, who was raped, beaten and molested while boarding at St Ninian’s School, run by the Christian Brothers in Falkland, Fife, has been awarded substantial damages. According to the report, the Congregation of Christian Brothers tried to pay Victim T £82,000 last year; however, in a written judgment (that has not yet been published) Sheriff Kenneth McGowan ordered them to pay £317,000, ruling that “The severity of the abuse in this case and the damage suffered by the pursuer justify an award near the top of the scale for cases of this nature.”

Ecclesiastical Committee

The Speaker has nominated the following Members to serve on the Ecclesiastical Committee during this Parliament pursuant to section 2(2) of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919: Fleur Anderson, Sir Peter Bottomley, Mr Ben Bradshaw, Fiona Bruce, Dr Lisa Cameron, Miriam Cates, Sir Roger Gale, Mr David Lammy, Rachael Maskell, Gary Sambrook, Andrew Selous, Jim Shannon, Sir Desmond Swayne, Stephen Timms and Martin Vickers.

The Peers also appointed are listed here.

Quick links

And finally…I

And finally…II

With this week’s emphasis on manual hygiene, the question has been asked “As an alternative to singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice whilst washing one’s hands, what is a commonly known hymn or church song extract of the appropriate length for safe handwashing? Although appropriate, SS Wesley’s Wash me throughly is 4 minutes 30 seconds in total, although conveniently, the first repetition of the phrase is about 19 seconds. The Second Church Estates Commissioner has admitted to singing a verse of the National Anthem; Europhiles might sing the first repeat of Ode to Joy, whilst Scots will have very clean hands if the opt for O Flower of Scotland.

[Frank prefers the first verse of The Lambton Worm.]

4 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 8th March

  1. Pingback: Church issues new Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance | Law & Religion UK

  2. Pingback: Coronavirus: contingency planning and legislation | Law & Religion UK

  3. The Catholic Church has banned hand shaking in the ‘sign of peace’, drinking from the Chalice and receiving the host on the tongue. Personally I always thought that communal drinking from the Chalice was deeply unhygenic virus or no virus.

    Regarding the sign of peace perhaps the Western Churches should adopt the Eastern idea of palms together in front and bowing to your immediate neighbour. I’ve done that in Churches in Thailand and India it’s much more dignified than the disruptive hand shaking bonhomie seen in the Western Churches as well as being more hygenic

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