Flags and flagpoles: consistory court considerations

An earlier post Flags and flagpoles: Church of England reviewed the guidance that has been issued in relation to the flying of flags in the Church of England; this followed a report in the Church Times prior to the submission of a proposed Private Members’ Motion to General Synod which called for the prohibition of “the Pride rainbow flag” on church buildings. We observed that it was unsurprising that various urban myths had developed regarding the flying of flags given the lack of consistency within the advice that is available; the guidance reviewed concerned the flying of flags and the installation of flagpoles. This post looks at  other aspects that have been considered by the consistory courts, and in government guidance – laying up and disposal of historic flags; other flag-related issues; and includes an augmented summary of the relevant advice.


Laying up and disposal of historic flags

Advice is given in the Church of England document A Brief guide to Flags, Military Colours and Historic Banners, which “is intended to help dioceses and parishes by explaining the options available to them for flying flags and for laid-up military standards, guidons and colours and Royal British Legion standards. The conservation guidance is relevant to the care of historic banners, including those designed to be carried in procession”. The guidance on military standards, guidons and colours is drawn from Chapter 8 of the Queen’s regulations for the Armed Forces 1975.

Laying-up flags

In Re St Leonard, Middleton, [1989] 23 November, Manchester Const Ct, Spafford Ch. (reported in (1990) 2 Ecc LJ 64), a faculty was granted for the laying-up of a Royal British Legion standard in the parish church, although a petition for the introduction of a Guide movement flag to be displayed in a frame was dismissed; this was said to be “not a slight against the Guide movement, but the application of a criterion of eligibility”.

Relocation

The case of Re St. Mary the Virgin Selling [2013] Canterbury Commissary Ct,  Ellis Com. Gen. concerned the church’s desire to provide a more suitable location for two flags from the Battle of Trafalgar that had been donated by a local family; a summary of the case is at Church court resolves historic flags conflict. On the ownership of the flags, it was held that flags were given to the Parish in 1930; four options were considered for the location of the flags: remaining in the Cathedral Treasury; return to St Mary, Selling; storage, conservation and display at the National Maritime Museum, (NMM); and interim storage, (possibly at the NMM), until the Faversham Museum is physically able to accommodate them.

Of these options, the  Commissary General considered that the disposal to the NMM was justified by the necessity of ensuring proper care for the flags in the future. She noted that it was also desirable to divest the Parish of responsibility for the physical safety and condition of the flags.

Disposal

The disposal of flags was considered in Church to burn Union Flags, which reviews the judgment Re St Mary Magdalene South Bersted [2014] Chichester Cons Ct, Hill Ch; these flags were among the redundant or dilapidated items that the incumbent, churchwarden and PCC secretary of the church sought to remove and dispose of. The relevant part of the judgment addressed the disposal of 11 standards (and their metal wall fixings), viz. six British Legion banners; a Dunkirk Veterans Association; Banner; a Royal Artillery Association banner; two Union flags and one with the cross of St George [12]. The parish was commended by the Chancellor and the CBC for its efforts in contacting the various organisations associated with each of these and their respective treatment. Importantly, the Chancellor considered that they did not constitute “church treasure” [5(i)]. He stated:

“[13]. The CBC was supportive of those banners not wanted elsewhere to be incinerated. The PCC and churchwarden are agreeable to the incineration of the union flags and the cross of St George; so also is the country secretary of the Royal British Legion, in relation to their standards. The Dunkirk Veterans Association was disbanded in 2000. The various standards are in such poor condition that they would be unlikely to survive cleaning. The membership secretary of the Royal Artillery Association, has kindly agreed to collect the standard of its Bognor Regis Branch and return it to the Association’s base at Larkhill, Hampshire”.

Other flag-related issues

Plaques, noticeboards and acknowledgements. Faculty jurisdiction and external signage. (25 January 2017).

Provocative flags…Further to our report on 30 September 2018 that flying the Vatican flag (or certain others) in a “provocative manner” could potentially be viewed as a crime, on Thursday the matter had another airing, this time in the Scottish Parliament on  04 October 2018. James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab) said:

“It is simply unacceptable that flags that demonstrate religious and political beliefs should be restricted. It is a breach of civil liberties. It is outrageous that the Vatican City flag can be considered one that might get somebody criminalised. Can the cabinet secretary make it clear to Police Scotland that, as lawmakers, the Scottish Parliament finds it deeply offensive and unacceptable that such flags are listed and that people’s civil liberties are being breached?

However, Humza Yousaf replied:

I will give James Kelly the benefit of the doubt, because he might not have read the guidance in detail. As I said in my previous answer, the guidance states that flying the Vatican City flag, for example, in its unaltered state—that is important—would not, in itself, be a criminal offence. Police Scotland has said that, and it is happy for me to say that, too. Particular actions, such as altering any national flag, could make flying that flag an offence. As attendees at football matches, James Kelly and I know that flags could be altered to include the names of organisations that are proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Flying national flags, such as the Vatican City flag, in their unaltered state would not, in itself, be a criminal offence. I give that reassurance to James Kelly and other members”.

St George’s Day: Church and State. Background to the flying of flags from public buildings, bank holidays vs public holidays, and the transfer of festivals andholy days. (24 April 2019).


Advice on Flags

There are a number of sites which proffer advice on the flying of flags in the Church of England:


[*] This site has “http://” encryption which some browsers may identify as “not secure”.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Flags and flagpoles: consistory court considerations" in Law & Religion UK, 24 June 2022, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2022/06/24/flags-and-flagpoles-consistory-court-considerations/

 

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