Law & Religion UK is intended as a forum for what we hope is academically-rigorous exploration of the interactions between law and religion, together with the associated human rights issues. We welcome pertinent guest posts and comments on current developments that reflect the views and opinions of their respective authors and meet the General Conditions applying to the site. Those that do not meet these criteria or which are otherwise unidentifiable are unlikely to be published

Frank Cranmer and David Pocklington


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Same-sex marriage for Church of Scotland ministers? – not just yet

Following its vote last Saturday to allow the ordination/induction/appointment of ministers and deacons in civil partnerships, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has now taken the first step to extend that permission to ministers in same-sex marriages.

The final decision has been deferred until its presbyteries have been consulted under the Barrier Act. Presbyteries will now debate the matter and return their votes by the end of this year. This means that congregations may now opt out of [“depart from”] traditional church teaching on marriage and call a minister or deacon in a civil partnership, but they will not be able to call a minister in a same-sex marriage until the final vote has been taken. Special provisions were agreed that protect any minister or deacon ordained before 31 May 2009 who is now in a same-sex marriage, in the following terms: Continue reading

Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd & Ors – an analysis

Yesterday I posted a fairly brief summary of the Ashers Bakery case from media reports. Following is a more considered analysis based on the judgment itself.

The facts

The plaintiff, Gareth Lee, was a gay man associated with QueerSpace, an organisation for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community in Northern Ireland. To mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, in May 2014 he ordered a cake from Ashers Bakery bearing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” and a picture of the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie. He had previously bought things at the same branch of Ashers and had become aware from a leaflet that he could have a cake iced with a graphic of his own design [7]. Ashers initially accepted his order but the third defendant, Mrs Karen McArthur, subsequently telephoned him to say that his order could not be fulfilled because Ashers was “a Christian business and, in hindsight, she should not have taken the order”: she apologised and refunded his money [9].

In Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd & Anor [2015] NICty 2 Mr Lee claimed before Belfast County Court that he had been discriminated against contrary to the provisions of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 and/or the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 [1]. Continue reading

(Not) supporting gay marriage at the cake counter: Lee v Ashers Bakery

What follows was based solely on news reports. A formal case-note based on the judgment itself is now available here: Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd & Ors – an analysis.

Regular readers will no doubt recall that the proprietors of Ashers Bakery refused to bake a cake for Gareth Lee bearing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” with the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie. He had ordered the cake for an event to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in May 2014 and Ashers initially accepted his order but later cancelled it and returned his money. Subsequently, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland supported legal action against the bakery for alleged discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and (possibly) on grounds of political opinion – and drew a sharp public rebuke from the First Minister, Peter Robinson MLA, for doing so.

The case was heard at Belfast County Court by District Judge Brownlie in April and in her reserved judgment handed down today she found that the defendants had discriminated unlawfully against Mr Lee on grounds of sexual orientation. Mr Lee was awarded £500 damages (plus, presumably, costs).

Continue reading

Yet another church property dispute: Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni & Ors v Romania

The applicants, the Greek-Catholic Parish of Lupeni, the Diocese of Lugoj and the Archpriesthood of Lupeni, sought the restitution of property belonging to the Church that had been transferred to the Orthodox Church under the Ceaușescu regime.

The Greek-Catholic Church of Romania [Biserica Română Unită cu Roma, Greco-Catolică] was dissolved by Nicolai Ceaușescu and its property expropriated to the Orthodox Church by decree. After the fall of Ceaușescu in 1989, Legislative Decree No. 126/1990 was passed to provide that the legal status of property which had belonged to the Greek-Catholic Church would be determined by joint commissions comprising representatives of both the Greek-Catholic and Orthodox Churches, taking account of the “wishes of the adherents of the communities which own these properties”. In the event of disagreement, a party with an interest in bringing proceedings could do so under ordinary law.  Continue reading

Will plans for a British Bill of Rights be reduced to a bill for England only?

“Human rights” includes not only freedom of thought, conscience and religion but several other elements with a religious dimension – and the debate over the future of the HRA 1998 rumbles on. Bob Morris, who will be no stranger to readers of this blog, has kindly allowed us to cross-post the following, co-written with Professor Robert Hazell. It first appeared on the UCL Constitution Unit Blog.


Opposition from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales could pose a serious challenge to Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. This is the first in a series of posts based on the Constitution Unit’s latest report, Devolution and the Future of the Union.

The Conservative manifesto, building on pledges in previous manifestos, contained these statements about replacing the Human Rights Act with a British bill of rights:

  • We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK. The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights (p.73)
  • The next Conservative Government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights. This will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK (p.60).

Continue reading

Religion and law round-up – 17th May

A pot-pourri of human rights, parents’ rights, the Kirk and civil partnerships, bishops, cremation, property portfolios – and black spiders…

Church of Scotland and civil partnerships

Perhaps the biggest news of the week was that yesterday the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland agreed that ministers in civil partnerships may be ordained and inducted. A vote is expected on Thursday on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Human rights

The Conservative Manifesto 2015 states inter alia

We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK. The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights. It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society. But it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society. Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.”

A number of commentators have considered the possible options for the new Conservative government, Continue reading

Kirk votes to permit ministers to enter civil partnerships

The BBC reported, and the Kirk subsequently confirmed, that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has voted to allow congregations to ordain or induct ministers who are in same-sex civil partnerships: commissioners voted 309 in favour and 183 against. The issue has been the subject of several debates, both within the General Assembly and in the wider Church; and at the Assembly in 2014 the issue was sent down to the 45 presbyteries under the terms of the Barrier Act. The presbyteries voted 31 to 14 in favour of change. Continue reading