The week after which 16- and 17-year-olds could no longer take advantage of the reduced marriage costs
The Home Secretary on freedom of religion or belief
Last week, there was a report of an incident at a school in Wakefield in which a copy of the Quran had been slightly damaged. According to the BBC, four pupils were suspended as a result, and one of them, who is autistic, allegedly received death threats.
On Saturday, the Home Secretary wrote a comment piece in The Times, We do not have blasphemy laws in Great Britain, in which she mounted a stout defence of pluralism:
“We do not have blasphemy laws in Great Britain, and must not be complicit in the attempts to impose them on this country. There is no right not to be offended. There is no legal obligation to be reverent towards any religion. The lodestar of our democracy is freedom of speech. Nobody can demand respect for their belief system, even if it is a religion. People are legally entitled to reject — and to leave — any religion. There is no apostasy law in this country. The act of accusing someone of apostasy or blasphemy is effectively inciting violence upon that person.
Everyone who lives here has to accept this country’s pluralism and freedom of speech and belief. One person’s freedom to, for example, convert from Islam to Christianity is the same freedom that allows a Muslim to say that Jesus was a prophet but not God Incarnate.
This freedom is absolute. It doesn’t vary case by case. It can’t be disapplied at a local level. And no one living in this country can legitimately claim that this doesn’t apply to them because they belong to a different tradition.”
Further comment is hardly necessary.
Biting the hand?
In a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday, Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet, Con) said that some charities that receive statutory funding were “willing to bite the hand of the Government who are feeding and supporting them” by undertaking political campaigning and said that this was particularly true of organisations that work with refugees. He also said:
“While many charities take care not to suggest who people should vote for, and hence have not come to the notice of the Electoral Commission—I must declare that I am a member of the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission—the activities of many of these charities are, by negative inference, hinting that a vote should not be cast for the Government in power.”
In short, he went very close to accusing some charities of party-political campaigning – which is flat contrary to charity law in all three jurisdictions.
In reply, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Stuart Andrew, made it clear that
“non-party political campaigning can be a legitimate way for charities to spend their resources, so long as they act within charity law. The law is clear: to be a charity, an organisation must exist only for charitable purposes. A political purpose is not a charitable purpose and therefore any organisation that has political purposes cannot by any degree be a charity. However, charities can engage in political activity that is actively intended to change or influence decisions taken by the Government where it helps deliver the purpose of the charity” [our emphasis].
That “A political purpose is not a charitable purpose” is trite law; however, all faith communities have views on how society should be ordered, and their views may not coincide with those of one or more political parties. The issue can be a difficult one in practice, particularly whether a charity should register with the Electoral Commission as a non-party campaigner at a general election. Fortunately, ministers at DCMS seem to be taking a measured view of the matter.
Church of England revised parochial fees
Following a decision by General Synod on 8 February, the Parochial Fees (Amendment) Order 2023 was laid before Parliament on 28 February and came into force on 1 March. The Church’s revised Tables of Parochial Fees are available as an A3 table, an A4 table, and a Summary which incorporates the A4 tabular material, including the Notes.
At the beginning of the month, we undertook a further review of the posts which had received the most page reads. Unsurprisingly, there is little change in the statistics for the medium term from those reported recently, but of the top ten posts over the seven days ending 1 March 2023, eight related to items posted during this week, reflecting the number of current items of interest to our readers.
- Equality and Human Rights Commission: Economic, social and cultural rights in Great Britain.
- Jonathan Este, The Conversation: Religious schools can build a community of faith without discriminating. The law should reflect that: on the Australian Law Reform Commission’s consultation on how to end discrimination against LGBTQ students and staff while allowing religious schools to maintain their ethos.
- Ministry of Justice: Legal age of marriage in England and Wales rises to 18. “Vulnerable children across England and Wales will be better protected from the damaging impact of forced marriage as the legal age of marriage rises to 18 in England and Wales.”
- Joshua Rozenberg, A Lawyer Writes: Forget Gretna Green: “Any teenagers thinking of eloping to Scotland in the hope of getting round new marriage restrictions in England and Wales would be well advised to think again”: an explainer on the effects of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022.
You say, “Further comment is hardly necessary.” As I reflected on the following passage I’m not so sure.
“There is no right not to be offended. There is no legal obligation to be reverent towards any religion. The lodestar of our democracy is freedom of speech. Nobody can demand respect for their belief system, even if it is a religion. People are legally entitled to reject — and to leave — any religion. There is no apostasy law in this country. The act of accusing someone of apostasy or blasphemy is effectively inciting violence upon that person.”
I agree with the statements, but two cause me to pause for thought: ‘There is no right not to be offended.’ and ‘The act of accusing someone of apostasy or blasphemy is effectively inciting violence upon that person.’
‘Offensive’ covers an extremely wide range of actions and reactions: verbally mild to violent. If there is ‘no right not to be’ does that mean I have a right to offend? I trust not. I may disagree with a non-Christian faith, explaining why if asked. But I trust I would not offend a person by implying they do not deserve respect as a fellow human. As the passage continues, “Everyone who lives here has to accept this country’s pluralism and freedom of speech and belief.”
As you read the New Testament letters you realise this is not a new challenge for the Christian when sharing one’s faith.
With the General Synod decision on same-sex marriage, the freedom to share one’s views without causing offence is a challenge.
I think that’s a very fair point. The absence of a “right not to be offended” is well understood – eg, I can’t start complaining under the HRA if someone says that I write tendentious drivel (even if I sometimes do) – though if I were daft enough, I could sue for defamation. The problem, presumably, is when offensive language tips over into hate speech. But that’s a matter for the criminal law, not the civil. And where do you draw the line?
A good question! Especially when you go to https://www.cps.gov.uk/crime-info/hate-crime and read:
The police and the CPS have agreed the following definition for identifying and flagging hate crimes:
“Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on a person’s disability or perceived disability; race or perceived race; or religion or perceived religion; or sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation or transgender identity or perceived transgender identity.”
There is no legal definition of hostility so we use the everyday understanding of the word which includes ill-will, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike. [end of quote].