Law and religion round-up – 23rd August

Yet more on COVID-19 – and an apology…

COVID-19 and religious services in Scotland

Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands, Con) asked on what basis the Scottish Government had determined that the number of people who can attend places of worship for communal services and prayer should be limited to 50 [S5W-31084]. In an answer published on Tuesday, the Minister for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell, replied that while the Scottish Government recognised how difficult the lockdown had been for faith communities:

“Decisions about what restrictions to place on sectors or activities on our route out of lockdown have been guided by the principles set out in our Framework for Decision Making. We have sought to reduce broader health, economic and societal harm, but always with the necessity to suppress the virus. This has led to some difficult decisions about how best to balance the various harms. For many of our faith communities, places of worship are also community spaces where individuals meet to worship, pray and interact with others from across their congregation. To support this, places of worship are not caught by the same restrictions on household gatherings as, for example, hospitality settings such as pubs and restaurants. In order to limit the risk of transmission of the virus, we must take a cautious approach and ensure that the total number of people interacting with each other within places of worship remains at a manageable level. This is currently set at 50 people at a time. Our guidance on safe capacities was developed in discussion with our faith communities and we will continue to work closely with them as we move towards fully reopening places of worship as soon as it is safe to do so. The 50 person limit will be reviewed on 20 August as part of our commitment to review restrictions every three weeks, as outlined in the Framework for Decision Making.

Specifically in relation to weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, on Monday, in answer to a question [S5W-31017] from Mark Griffin (Central Scotland, Lab) on allowing more than 20 guests to attend a wedding, the Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham, said this:

“With effect from 15 July, Scottish Ministers amended the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 to remove the restriction on the number of households allowed to be present at marriage ceremonies and civil partnership registrations. At present, we are advising that no more than 20 people should attend a marriage ceremony or civil partnership registration, provided they can be accommodated safely with physical distancing in the chosen venue. This limit will be reviewed again at the end of August.

Our position will continue to be kept under careful review and we will continue to consider ways to permit marriage ceremonies and civil partnership registrations to take place safely. Any further changes to the current limit on numbers will depend on public health advice.”

COVID-19 Coronavirus: legislation and guidance

On 20 August 2020 at 18:04, we transferred all the material on the earlier Coronavirus updates – index to  COVID-19 Coronavirus: legislation and guidance, to which further updates will now be added. Weekly updates are here. Coronavirus updates – index now consists of a link to the new page, for those who arrive at this page rather than the new one. Coronavirus updates – index first appeared in March, and after 389 revisions we felt that a new page was necessary to prevent site-related problems associated with the many changes we occasionally encounter with these weekly updates. It also provided an opportunity to ditch the somewhat confusing URL “https://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2020/03/12/__trashed-3__trashed/“.

When the possibility of posting an index was first considered, we were undecided whether it would be worthwhile, and on a couple of occasions consigned it to the trash bin, hence “trashed” was included (twice) in the URL designated by WordPress. With regard to the C of E Guidance documents on our summaries, when the Church updates its documents, sometimes it does so under the former URL (as does government) but sometimes it does not. Consequently, to avoid confusion, when a new version is published on L&RUK, all previous versions and their links are removed from the Index, although copies are retained off-line.

Singing in church… soon, if not already

Last week was a busy time for the publication of advice on choral singing in places of worship, following changes to government guidelines on the performing arts on Friday 14 August. The week began with the latest tranche of COVID-19 guidance from the Church of England which was made “particularly in light of changes to advice on choirs singing during services”. On Thursday, the much-awaited report on the PERFORM project was posted; this work analysed aerosol generation associated with breathing, speaking, shouting and singing under carefully controlled conditions, in order to provide further information about the risks of singing. This was followed on 21 August by a Press Release from the Church of England and the RSCM indicating that following the publication of the PERFORM findings, they would await updated government guidance on singing in places of worship. However, it added that it was not yet known how Government guidance would be amended in light of the study.

We suspect this may be some time, since, in the absence of complimentary research, it would be difficult to translate these experimental results to practical guidelines that would be readily applicable to a range of real-life situations. The PERFORM report concludes [235-244]:

“Given that speaking and singing produce umbers of particles of the same order of magnitude, and that increasing volume increases that number by orders of magnitude, guidelines from public health bodies should focus on the volume at which the vocalisation occurs, the number of participants (source strength), the environment (ventilation) in which the activity occurs and the duration of the rehearsal and period over which performers are vocalising.

For certain vocal activities and venues, amplification may be a practical solution to reduce the volume of singing by the performers. Based on the differences observed between vocalisation and breathing and given that it is likely that there will be many more audience members than performers, singers may not be responsible for the greatest production of aerosol during a performance, and for indoor events measures to ensure adequate ventilation may be more important than restricting a specific activity.”

The consequent relaxation of the social-distancing rules in the performing arts guidance from 3 metres to 2 metres for singers and woodwind and brass players has been acknowledged as “a big step forward”. However, the work was focussed on the respirable aerosol concentrations and particle size distributions aerosols produced by one individual at a time.

The Royal School of Church Music has outlined four Models for playing and singing in church and a comprehensive 11-page Risk Assessment Template for “music in live services”. However, there clearly more than four configurations for playing and singing in church, not least the scenario with the organ and choir stalls at the west end.

These developments will be explored further in a post next week; this comes to the conclusions that there is no “one size fits all” solution; a risk assessment must be undertaken before singing recommences; and the responsibility rests at the local level – PCCs, incumbents and churchwardens.

Church of England General Synod

Earlier this month we noted that there would be a Special Session of General Synod is to be held on 24 September 2020 when it is anticipated that the sole item of business will be the General Synod (Remote Meetings) Measure which will make provision enabling remote meetings. The outline timetable for this meeting has now been confirmed.

Quick links

.And finally…

… an apology. In last week’s roundup, in a fit of total absent-mindedness, I misreported the views expressed by Madeleine Pennington in Cohesive Societies: Faith and Belief. My thanks to David Pollock for pointing out my error: I subsequently corrected it, but I’m afraid it’s yet more evidence that it’s an imperfect world – Frank.

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