Law and religion round-up – 16th October

A nerve-racking time for commentators trying to write about events last week, in the likelihood of change before the time one presses “Send”…

… paraphrased from a Tweet that seems to capture the many uncertainties of the week. For the coming week, the timing of the publication of the final IICSA Report on Thursday 20 October has been well trailed by IICSA and others, an event anticipated in the announcement by the House of Bishops that it had commissioned further work on the seal of the confessional – one of the issues likely to be highlighted in the IICSA Report. Last week we posted an Index to links to our posts on the seal from 2014 until the present. 

Political activity and campaigning by charities

On 12 October, the Charity Commission of England and Wales published guidance on Political activity and campaigning by charities. At the same time, the Commission’s Chair, Orlando Fraser, warned that “Charities must never stray into party politics – must never promote, or be seen to promote, a political party or candidate.” The guidance did not prove uncontroversial, and the Commission subsequently had to deny that it was changing the rules.

The point at which campaigning crosses the line into support for a political party can sometimes be extremely difficult to determine; however, it pays to err well on the side of caution. A former member of the Charity Commission’s board, Andrew Purkis, recently asked the Commission (unsuccessfully) to revisit the charitable status of the Institute of Economic Affairs – basically on the grounds that it supported the Conservative party.

(And it shouldn’t need saying, but the guidance applies as much to religious charities as to secular ones.)

Recent charity proceedings: Kaur

In Kaur v Malhi [2022] EWHC 2219 (unreported), the applicants sought an injunction to prevent a Sikh charity from holding an election for its executive committee.

The High Court refused the injunction sought. The claimants had not requested prior consent for “charity proceedings” from the Charity Commission (for which see the Commission’s publication, Charities and litigation: a guide for trustees), and the judge noted that under its “protective oversight” the Commission was obliged to consider the best interests of the charity. The judge also commented on the failure of the claimants to pursue mediation and other internal methods to solve their dispute, given the “strong public policy interest” in charities resolving their disputes by other means than costly litigation. [With thanks to Bates Wells.]

Blasphemy laws

On Tuesday, there was a Westminster Hall debate on the motion, “That this House has considered blasphemy laws and allegations in Commonwealth countries”. Unsurprisingly, the Minister for Development, Vicky Ford, stressed “the Government’s deep concern that the use of blasphemy laws undermines the right to freedom of religion or belief, the right to freedom of expression, and often the right to gender equality as well”.

Which is all very well so far as it goes. Unfortunately, however, short expelling authoritarian regimes from the Commonwealth – which, on the whole, UK Governments of all persuasions have been very reluctant to suggest ­– there is little that the present Government (or any Government) can do other than cajole. And Humanists UK suggests that Commonwealth countries are the most likely to have blasphemy laws.

Paganism in Lithuania

In 2021, we posted Recognition of paganism (or not) in Lithuania, on the ECtHR’s judgment in a case about registering minority/new religious movements: Ancient Baltic Religious Association Romuva v Lithuania [2021] ECHR 455. Lithuanian law distinguishes between three types of religious associations: traditional religious associations, non-traditional religious associations recognised by the State, and “other” religious associations. Currently, there are four non-traditional religious communities recognised by the Seimas: Baptists, Adventists, Pentecostals and the New Apostolic Church.

Romuva, a neo-pagan religious movement, applied to become a State-recognised religious association and a draft text was approved by the Lithuanian Parliament in June 2019, but when it came to a vote, the draft resolution to approve Romuva as a State-recognised religious association was not adopted. The ECtHR found in favour of Romuva, ruling that there had been violations of Article 14 read in conjunction with Article 9 and of Article 13 (Right to an effective remedy): the authorities had not given a reasonable and objective justification for the difference of treatment and the members of the Seimas who had voted against granting State recognition had not remained neutral and impartial in exercising their regulatory powers.

The matter was raised again; and on 29 September the Seimas voted on the renewed proposal: 34 members were in favour, 19 were against and 18 abstained. So the motion was lost and Lithuania remains in breach of the ECtHR’s judgment. The problem seems to be that, as in the UK, the courts cannot direct members of the Seimas how to vote –whatever the ECtHR might rule – and the politicians remain unconvinced of the merits of registering Romuva. [With thanks to the Religion Media Centre].

How ecclesiastical offices are made vacant

Philip Jones at Ecclesiastical Law has posted Sede Vacante: How Ecclesiastical Offices are made Vacant, in which he analyses the differences in the rules which apply to various categories of officeholders: archbishops and bishops, other clergy, lay ministers, ecclesiastical judges and legal officers, and parochial officers (churchwardens and lay members of the parochial church council). 

Quick link

And finally…

The Church Times reports that the London School of Economics and Political Science has opened a Religion and Global Society research unit funded by a £1.25-million grant made by the Templeton Religion Trust. Its Director, Professor James Walters (who is also the LSE’s chaplain) explains:

“Our unit goes beyond the question of whether or not religions are a ‘good thing’. We simply cannot ignore the fact that three-quarters of the world’s population have a religious faith, and demographic change means that proportion is increasing not decreasing. If we are therefore to meaningfully tackle the climate crisis, conflict, and human rights issues we need to understand different religious ways of thinking and being.”

Spot on, in our view.

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