Law and religion round-up – 29th May

A week in which we learned the meaning of “WTF”…

… err, “Wine Time Friday”, from the Sue Gray report (at p30).  And choristers and musicians who were banned from performing will be less than impressed that “Helen MacNamara, Deputy Cabinet Secretary, attended for part of the evening and provided a karaoke machine which was set up in an adjoining office to the waiting room” (at p32). 

Churches and clergy – a reminder

In his post, What is a “church” in English law?, Simon Hunter suggests that the word “church” can be used in three different contexts, of which the broad definition – “the quasi-corporate institution which carries on the religious work of the denomination whose name it bears”– is applicable to many faith groups, both large and small. On this basis, the answer to the recent query “Is ***** a real church?” is “most likely ‘Yes’” provided it fulfils these criteria. Likewise the associated clergy and their manner of dress; as we noted in an earlier post:

“…there’s nothing very ‘clerical’ about a lot of clerical dress at all – and certainly not something under the control of the churches, none of which any longer has any kind of criminal jurisdiction enforceable against the world at large. But all that, sadly, is little comfort to a victim of clerical sexual abuse who sees her or his abuser still wearing clerical garb even after being inhibited for life.”

However, commenting on the status of clergy within a faith group and whether their titles are “genuine” must be approached with a degree of caution. The use of the term “self-styled bishop” by the media following the first gay wedding blessing on Richard and Judy’s prime time TV programme resulted in two years of litigation culminating in Blake v Associated Newspapers Ltd [2003] EWHC 1960 (QB). The court concluded that the issue was non-justiciable as it could not rule on the validity of a bishop. It was reported that Associated Newspapers International had to pay a proportion of Bishop Blake’s costs, “which were minimal as he had represented himself”, in addition to their own, “which were considerable”. Nevertheless, this is an area into which we are unlikely to venture.

School worship in Wales

Jeremy Miles, the Welsh Government Minister for Education and Minister for the Welsh Language has confirmed that Education Minister Jeremy Miles there is currently no intention to review the law on religious worship in schools in Wales:

“Collective worship does not form part of the current National Curriculum, nor is it to be a part of the future Curriculum for Wales. I don’t have plans to review collective worship policy but I will listen to stakeholders’ views on it.”

[With thanks to Russell Sandberg.]

Might supporting a football team be a philosophical belief?

In Mr E McClung v Doosan Babcock Ltd & Ors [2022] UKET 4110538/2019, Mr McClung was engaged by Doosan Babcock as a self-employed contractor via his own limited company, McClung Strategy and Projects Ltd, which was paid via the second respondent, NRL Ltd [2]. After the relationship was terminated in September 2019, he lodged a claim of unfair dismissal and discrimination on grounds of religion or belief with an Employment Tribunal, relying on section 10 Equality Act (religion or belief) and claiming that he had been dismissed because of his religion as a Protestant Christian and his philosophical belief in supporting Rangers Football Club [7].

The respondents argued that he was not an employee of NRL Ltd and that he had been engaged via his company under a contract for services to work on a short-term contract for Doosan Babcock [3]. They also questioned whether there was sufficient reference to “religion” or “philosophical belief” in the pleadings before the Employment Tribunal from which it could conclude that the allegations of direct discrimination and/or harassment were because of (or related to) a protected characteristic: in short, whether support for Rangers Football Club could ever amount to a philosophical belief and whether there was any link between the alleged treatment and the alleged discrimination [37].

In an interim ruling, the ET decided that the claim presented on 2 September 2019 did not include a complaint under s 104 Employment Rights Act 1996 and refused Mr McClung’s application to amend it to include a complaint under s 104. It held over to a later date the respondents’ application to have the claim (or any part of it) struck out as having no reasonable prospect of success. So as to whether or not support for Rangers FC could amount to a philosophical belief, we must wait and see.

Consistory courts – a cautionary note

In Re St Gregory Sudbury [2022] ECC SEI 2, Gau Ch commenced his judgment with advice to the Petitioners which is likely to be of general applicability:

“[1]. This case demonstrates the need for Petitioners to supply the fullest possible information when they submit their Petitions. In this instance the Petitioners chose only to send a very limited amount of their research. This was due to the fact that the petitioner didn’t feel the need to burden me with their research. I emphasize as I have in other Judgments that it is imperative that I have all the relevant documentation. I would prefer to be overburdened than under. One of the great strengths of the electronic application system is that a very large amount of documentation can be uploaded and read”.

The Petitioners sought permission to introduce 15 quartz halogen heaters into the church and also replace the windows in the ringing chamber. The application for the heaters was refused by the Chancellor on the basis of objections raised by the Church Building Council (CBC). Concern was expressed by the parish that account had not been taken of their considerable research with regard to the proposed heating, “but they had chosen not to send it with their application because they were unaware that it should be included in their Statement of Need”.

However, at a subsequent meeting, attended by representatives of the PCC, the Diocesan Advisory Committee and the CBC, additional information was provided and as a consequence, the CBC confirmed that it was content to support the proposed heating. Taking into account the Duffield questions, the Chancellor was satisfied that there was a clear justification for carrying out the proposals, which would outweigh any harm caused by the introduction of the heaters. He granted a faculty for the heaters and also for the replacement windows for the ringing chamber.

Christ Church Oxford safeguarding review

On 26 May the Church of England announced that it was undertaking a review of the handling of safeguarding issues regarding the former Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Dr Martyn Percy, and published the associated Terms of Reference. This week Dr Percy posted three articles on the “Modern Church” website in response to the proposed ISB review and his views on safeguarding generally; also this week, Christ Church Governing Body posted “Christ Church and Dr Martyn Percy: Our Response” on events over the past three years. Although we will be keeping a watching brief on developments, L&RUK will not publish further posts until the formal outcome of the safeguarding review is in the public domain. Consequently, further comments on the review are closed. 

Contested heritage – St Mary Redcliffe

Following events which led to the statue of Edward Colston being thrown into Bristol harbour on 7 June 2020, St Mary Redcliffe Church Council and the Diocese of Bristol took the decision to remove the four panels at the bottom of the church’s north transept window. The panels bore the name of Edward Colston, his emblem and his motto “Go and do thou likewise”. These were replaced with plain glass as a temporary measure. The church has now launched a competition to design four dedication panels for the bottom of the Good Samaritan stained-glass window located in the North Transept, details of which are in the competition brief

Quick links

And finally…I

Delivering his speech as Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland this week, Lord Hodge DPSC said, inter alia

“At a time when political leaders in autocratic regimes and, regrettably, in some democracies, have often been disrespectful of the truth and commentators accept with a resigned shrug the deliberate purveying of lies, the commitment of the Church, and other churches, to promote truthfulness in our public and private lives has never been more important.”

No comment.

And finally…II

In Dutton v Bazzi [2021] FCA 1474, Rares and Rangiah JJ of the Federal Court of Australia cited Lord Kerr in Stocker v Stocker [2019] UKSC 17 at [43] who said: …it is wrong to engage in elaborate analysis of a tweet“.

Noted.

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