COVID-19 and closure of churches in Scotland
Lawyers acting on behalf of a Roman Catholic priest in Glasgow, Canon Tom White, have issued a pre-action letter to the Scottish Government demanding that it end the blanket ban on places of worship. The action is being supported by ADF International. A response must be made before Tuesday: watch this space.
Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill
The Scottish Parliament Justice Committee is holding a special meeting tomorrow afternoon to consider four Freedom of Expression amendment options and have issued a call for evidence to be sent by 10.00 am tomorrow. The Scottish Government is proposing four options for consideration and has stated that none of them is preferred over another. The Justice Secretary’s thinking behind the four options is set out here. [With thanks to David Bradwell.]
On 16 January 2021, Thirtyone:eight reported that the publication of its Independent lessons learnt review concerning Jonathan Fletcher and Emmanuel Church Wimbledon is planned to take place in March 2021. Thirtyone:eight will be issuing an update in early March with the expected publication date, and where interested parties may be able to view the report. It confirms that the review has been of interest to the Metropolitan Police and discussions with them are ongoing in relation to this. As a consequence, “the exact date for publication will to some degree be determined by the outcome of these discussions”. All affected participants in the review have been contacted to inform them of the interest from the Metropolitan Police in advance of this public statement.
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and freedom religion and belief
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has sent the UK Government a List of issues prior to submission of the combined sixth and seventh reports of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and has requested a written response to the points raised, if possible before 15 February 2022. On the issue of freedom of expression, religion, association and peaceful assembly in particular, it asks the Government to “describe the measures taken to:
(a) Repeal legal provisions for compulsory attendance at collective worship in publicly funded schools and ensure that children can independently exercise the right to withdraw from religious observance at school;
(b) Ensure that counter-terrorism measures, including the Prevent Strategy, do not undermine children’s rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion;
(c) Guarantee children’s right to freedom of movement and peaceful assembly, including by prohibiting the use of acoustic devices to disperse public gatherings of young people (so-called ‘mosquito devices’)”.
In his judgment Re St Mary Oxted  ECC Swk 1, Chancellor Philip Petchey granted an interim faculty for a new church boiler in view of the urgent need to replace the old one. However, he expressed reservations about approving a gas-fired boiler, bearing in mind the policy of the Church of England to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, and stated:
“. …decisions about carbon neutrality should be taken at parish level and … it is not for Chancellors to seek to impose solutions through the clumsy mechanism of refusing otherwise acceptable proposals. But it does seem that, absent new technology coming to the rescue, the effect of a whole series of decisions like the one in the present case is likely to lead to the 2030 target being missed. I consider that this should be addressed in the guidance given to parishes by the National Church about the achievement of carbon neutrality and how they should address competing priorities in the formulation of their budgets“
Although the “net zero” target was set in February 2020, the Church’s national definition of “net zero carbon” and its approach to measurement were not reported to General Synod until November 2020 (GS Misc 1262), following the consultation issued on 15 June 2020. GS Misc 1262 states that excluded from the 2030 targets are:
“All the emissions from major building projects (new builds and extensions, major reorderings, solar panel installations, major new heating or lighting systems)”.
Consequently, if the proposed new boiler was considered as a major new heating system, the project would fall outwith the 2030 target; the petitioners envisaged that a further replacement might not be required until 2035. Nevertheless, as Chancellor Petchey noted, guidance from the national Church was required to clarify the situation. A further point for clarification arising from his judgment in Re St Michael and All Angels Blackheath Park  ECC Swk 1 [at 12, 13] and the extent to which electricity supplied is on a green tariff will have been sustainably generated, and its impact on the carbon footprint of the church.
Noli me tangere
On a “normal” Ash Wednesday, the major hurdle to be overcome is by the treble soloist’s ability to reach a top C, a consequence of the use of Mendelssohn’s version of Allegri’s Miserere, which is a fourth higher than Mozart’s. However, in view of the precautions to be taken to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, a number of issues have arisen, particularly during Lent, many of which are addressed in the Church of England Guidance COVID-19 Advice for Services during Lent, Holy Week, and Easter issued on 20 January 2021.
The imposition of ashes has been particularly problematic. Amongst the suggested options is the silent sprinkling of ash at arm’s length by a masked priest with sanitized hands – a sort of “holy dandruff”. [Not if you wear contact lenses, thanks: FC] However, the Guidance cautions that “[t]he temptation should be resisted to use a single-use implement to apply ash to the forehead”. For a more high-tech but probably less satisfying option, the Church of England has launched an Instagram filter that allows people to superimpose a digital ash cross onto their foreheads in selfies while people cannot mark Ash Wednesday in church. As of 18 February, the Instagram filters had been seen by more than 70k people, of whom more than 14k people used them; the associated video had had 175k watches – clearly more a positive impact than the cupcake distribution in Leicester a few years ago.
- Conor Gearty, Human Rights in Action: The Human Rights Act and Parliament.
- Jonathan Jones, The Guardian: The Government’s hasty COVID law-making cannot become a template for the future: the former Treasury Solicitor – who resigned over Government plans to ignore international law during the 2020 Brexit negotiations – warns that the Government’s approach to legislating in response to COVID-19 “should not become a template for future policies or law-making, more generally”.
- Madeleine Kearns, Law & Liberty: Scotland’s new blasphemy law: on the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill, of which she disapproves – though without mentioning that the Bill would abolish the common law offence of blasphemy.
Stephen Sedley, Submission to the Independent Human Rights Act Review: on the judgments in R (Quila) v Home Secretary  EWCA (Civ) 1482 and  UKSC 45. There is a link to the submissions received so far, here: Call for Evidence: Individual responses.
- Leslie Thomas, Human Rights in Action: The importance of the Human Rights Act 1998 in coronial law.
The latest COVID-19 news on A Church Near You for St Peter, Evercreech, is: i] St Peter’s is now open for private prayer; ii] “The Clock is showing the time again”. With regard to the latter Delphic comment, however, the clock has no number 10. Locals say that, long ago, the man who paid for its face had a nagging wife who insisted he leave the pub by 10 pm; he had the perfect excuse if the clock could never show this time. We understand that like in most churches, the clock temporarily stopped during the first lockdown as winding it wasn’t considered essential maintenance. However, it is definitely working now and is showing ‘Evercreech Time‘.