Law and religion round-up – 17th July

A brief reappearance of “The Red Headed League”…

…where the UK cinema chain Showcase offered free entry to red-haired people on Monday and Tuesday in view of the first ever national emergency red alert for heat ahead of expected record temperatures. Likewise, some dioceses such as Oxford are encouraging their clergy to open church buildings for afternoons, evenings, and/or early Monday/Tuesday morning, inter alia, noting that it is the lack of the cooling down overnight that poses the greatest risk to health.

The Bill of Rights Bill again

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has issued a call for evidence on the Bill of Rights Bill. The link to the Committee’s online survey is here. The Committee is seeking submissions of no more than 3,000 words through its online portal by 26 August 2022. The Committee has also issued a very short questionnaire here.

House of Lords rejects changes to Religious Education

On 12 July, during the Report Stage of the Schools Bill, the House of Lords rejected an amendment that would have insisted that Religion and Worldviews be taught in academies without a religious character in England. Russell Sandberg has posted about the debate here.

Law Commission review of wedding law in England & Wales

The Law Commission has indicated that it aims to publish the final report with recommendations for Government on 19 July. There is a summary of the project and links to relevant documents on its “Weddings” web page. We have covered the project since its proposal in 2015 and links are included in the Index of UK Marriage Legislation.

‘Position of trust’ legislation

On 9 March 2021, we reported that the Church of England issued a statement on the provisions in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill regarding the scope of the term “position of trust”. In an update, the Church Times carried the article ‘Position of trust’ definition expanded to include religious leaders (15 July 2022). Details of the government’s intention are in the Policy paper Positions of trust: Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 factsheet.

The Bill was given Royal Assent on 28 April and s.46 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 now amends the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to expand the definition of a person in a “position of trust” to include anyone who is coaching, teaching, training, supervising, or instructing in a sport or a religion. Under s.208 of the Act (Commencement), the Act came into operation on 28 June and s.47 introduced a new s22A to the 2003 Act, which clarifies the meaning of “position of trust”; this includes someone, A, who:

“(a) A coaches, teaches, trains, supervises or instructs B, on a regular basis, in a sport or a religion, and

(b) A knows that they coach, teach, train, supervise or instruct B, on a regular basis, in that sport or religion,

where “religion” includes “a religion which involves belief in more than one god, and a religion which does not involve belief in a god”.

The Church of England and the seal of the confessional

At the meeting of the House of Bishops on Thursday 14 July, the Bishop of Stepney,  the Rt Revd Joanne Grenfell, informed the House of the decision to commission further work regarding best practice in the hearing of oral confession within the Sacramental Ministry of Confession and Absolution, ahead of the final report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The House was invited to comment on the working group and its draft terms of reference. The final IICSA report is expected “later in 2022”.

COVID-19 update

Earlier this month we reported the ONS data for the week ending 24 June 2022commenting that despite increases in infection rates within the UK, there had been no change in the advice offered by faith groups. The current ONS Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey, UK: 15 July 2022 indicates that the percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) has continued to increase in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in the week ending 6 July 2022, and in Scotland in the week ending 7 June 2022. These increases were likely caused by increases in infections compatible with Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

In England, the estimated number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is around 1 in 19 people (compared with the earlier figure of 1 in 30); in Wales 1 in 17 people (compared with 1 in 30); in Northern Ireland, 1 in 17 people (compared with 1 in 25); and in Scotland, 1 in 16 (compared with 1 in 18). Faith groups have not changed their guidance.

According to the most recent statistics, on 25 June the number of deaths for which COVID-19 was recorded on the death certificate as a contributory factor exceeded 200,000:

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

The UN Human Rights Council has appointed Nazila Ghanea as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. Dr Ghanea is Professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford, Associate Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub and a Fellow of Kellogg College.

Quick links

And finally…I

The Tuesday edition of the Pillar Post carried the headline Breaking: Benedict XVI is not dead. This explains:

“… last night an Italian schoolteacher … created a moral panic online, with a hoax that seems to have been in the works for nearly a year. Back in August 2021, the guy created a Twitter account for Bishop Georg Bätzing, who is President of the German Bishops’ Conference.

The account managed to amass thousands of followers. He didn’t use the account, but he built that following by strategically following the right people, and allowing the Twitter algorithms to do the rest. Then yesterday evening, he tweeted in German, English, and Spanish that Pope emeritus Benedict XVI had died.”

And finally…II

Peter Crumpler reminded us of the legal issues which faced the Gunnersbury Baptist Church during the previous heatwave and drought in 1976. The Chiswick & Brentford Gazette indicated that under the water-savings regulations at that time, it was uncertain whether the baptismal pool could be filled with 250 gallons of water for full-immersion baptisms – i.e. whether the pool equated to a swimming pool and, if so, whether it was for public or private use.

The dilemma stumped the Department of the Environment (as it then was) and, after much consideration, the Thames Water Board held that if the congregation was to be regarded as a public body, its use was probable permitted. In practical terms, however, the church’s use was no more than “a drop in the ocean”, given the ongoing leakage by Thames Water, which even now leaks 24% of the water it supplies.

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