Law and religion roundup – 10th December

And in the week that saw Robert Jenrick’s resignation as Minister for Immigration…

…on the grounds that the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill did not provide “the stronger protections required” – a Bill that commences with the following statement from the Home Secretary:

“I am unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill are compatible with the Convention rights, but the Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill”,

In his letter to The Times, Professor Mark Hill KC said “[w]hether Rwanda is a safe country is a question of fact not of law. No amount of legislation can change that“. The cost of the Government’s scheme to send illegal migrants to Rwanda has more than doubled and now amounts to £290M.

Legal migration

On Monday, the Home Secretary announced considerable new financial restrictions on immigration. When the statement was read out in the Lords on the following day, the Bishop of Norwich observed that

“many faith communities greatly benefit from the presence of religious workers from overseas. The Church of England benefits from the ministry of clergy from all around the Anglican Communion, enriching our communities and resourcing individuals’ ministry for life, often equipping them for when they return to their country of origin to minister in places of conflict and abject poverty. Many UK clergy, me included, have benefited from overseas experiences. Will the Minister consult faith communities about exemptions for religious workers, many of whom earn below the published threshold?”

To which the Minister, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, replied:

“I thank the right reverend Prelate for his questions. Of course, there is no barrier to recruiting people to the Church, as long as £38,700 is paid to them. I do not think that unreasonable, I am afraid. I appreciate that salaries may not be as high in the Church as he might like, never mind the rest of his colleagues, but that is the median salary, as I said earlier, and it is not unfair.”

The response to a follow-up question on 8 December from the Bishop of Worcester was inconsequential. It therefore remains uncertain whether this income requirement will apply to the Minister of Religion visa (T2), but it will almost certainly apply to non-clergy religious workers. Furthermore, it will apply in the case of spouses and civil partners of clergy already resident in the UK who need to renew their visas – raising the prospect of them having to return to their country of origin.

The current clergy minimum stipend for the Church of England is below £30,000, as are the standard stipends for Methodist and Baptist ministers, while the maximum stipend for Church of Scotland clergy in 2022 was £35,269. All are below the proposed £38,700 threshold – so what will happen when, say, an American cleric married to a Brit has to renew her UK visa? Part of the problem is that the remuneration package of parish clergy/ministers normally includes a rent-free parsonage house, and it is not yet clear whether that will be taken into account in the Home Office’s calculation of overall earnings for the purposes of the raised minimum income level necessary for a visa.

Disestablishment of the Church of England Bill

The Disestablishment of the Church of England Bill [HL] – “A Bill to disestablish the Church of England; to make provision for the protection of freedom of religion or belief; and for connected purposes” – was introduced in the House of Lords on 6 December 2023 by Lord Scriven (LD). The Bill was read a first time and ordered to be printed. The Deputy Speaker initially called it for the “Not Contents”, but the convention is that bills proceed unopposed at First Reading. The date for the Second Reading is yet to be announced.

The Bill’s chances of becoming law are almost precisely zero. You can see the text here.

Whither laïcité?

The BBC reports that a row has broken out in France, the bastion of laïcité, over President Macron’s invitation to France’s Chief Rabbi to light the first candle on a Hanukkiah on the occasion of the award to the President of a prize for his efforts against antisemitism.

Apparently, even some Jews are perplexed. Yonathan Arfi, who heads the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, is quoted as saying “This is something that shouldn’t be allowed to happen again. French Jews have always considered secularism as a law of protection and of freedom. Anything that weakens secularism weakens Jews”.

Call for papers and panels: 7th ICLARS Conference

The 7th ICLARS Conference will be held at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, USA, from 21 to 23 October 2024, organised jointly by the Religious Liberty Initiative of the University of Notre Dame Law School and the International Centre for the Study of Law and Religion at Brigham Young University Law School.

The theme is The Accommodation of Religion or Belief in the Public Sphere: Undeserved Privilege or Fundamental Right? Culture wars are being played out the world over. Some argue for the complete removal of religion from the public sphere, while for others, religious identity is permanent and enduring and cannot be confined to the private sphere. While some insist that specific rules for religions are a privilege that should be granted sparingly by legislators and courts, others claim that religion and belief are part of each person’s identity and their accommodation — as much as possible — should be a priority when enacting new laws or resolving legal conflicts.

The conference will focus on that dissonance, seeking proposals from experienced academics and young scholars on all sides of the argument. The aim is to examine different contemporary discourses on how religion, belief and personal ethics can or must be accommodated in the legal and operational structures of States. Is the traditional discourse based on religious exemptions an idiosyncrasy of the Western understanding of religious freedom? Is it adequate to face the demands of freedom of religion or belief conceived as a universal human right?

Cross-disciplinary and comparative papers are particularly welcomed. Potential sub-topics within the overall theme of the conference may include:

  • International norms on the accommodation of religion or belief in the public sphere.
  • Accommodation of religion – lessons from the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Local and regional practice on the accommodation of religion.
  • Neutrality, pluralism and secularism – constructive ambiguity or concealment strategies?
  • Negotiating equal treatment and common citizenship in countries with a tendency to overprotect religion, a particular religion, or secularism.
  • The demands of freedom of religion or belief in comparison with those of other fundamental rights.

The deadline for responses is 31 January 2024. Proposals should be sent via web form, available at A webpage for the conference will be published in due course: until then, enquiries should be addressed to

“A tenor, all singers above…”

On 7 December 2023, BBC Wales carried the headline “Covid: Johnson blamed Welsh rates on singing and obesity, inquiry hears“, stating:

“Ex-prime minister Boris Johnson blamed Wales’ high Covid rates in the pandemic on “the singing and the obesity”, according to the diary of his chief scientific adviser at the time. An extract from Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries was shown as Mr Johnson gave evidence to the UK Covid-19 inquiry. It included the line: “Wales very high – PM says ‘it is the singing and the obesity… I never said that.'”

Readers of this blog will be aware of the bungled Guidance issued by the Welsh Government but probably did not realize this had been taken seriously at Prime Ministerial level. The full story is given in the thread from @QuireMemes, on which Declan Costello @Voicedoctor_uk said:

“This was truly one of the most jaw-dropping moments of the pandemic. And – for the avoidance of doubt – our aerosol research did ‘not’ show that tenors were more aerosol-generating than other voices”.

Quick links

And finally…

From the editorial preface to the newly published Revised English Hymnal:

“Bilingual hymns work best when English and Welsh speakers sing them simultaneously in their preferred language, without trying to alternate languages or merely include a token Welsh verse”. 

[With thanks to Matt Chinery.]

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