Law & Religion UK is intended as a forum for 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


© Copyright in individual posts is reserved to their authors.

Pope Francis, Europe and human rights

In a short, four-hour visit to Strasbourg, Pope Francis delivered speeches to both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe[1].  The BBC and other media outlets picked up the comments in the third paragraph of his speech to the Parliament on the world’s perception of the EU as “somewhat elderly and haggard Europe”,

“As the European Union has expanded, the world itself has become more complex and ever changing; increasingly interconnected and global, it has, as a consequence, become less and less “Eurocentric”. Despite a larger and stronger Union, Europe seems to give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion.”

However, the press release of the European Parliament was more upbeat, and its summary of the Pope’s speech stated:

“Safeguarding human dignity was a key theme of the formal address delivered by Pope Francis to Members of the European Parliament on Tuesday. Immigration, protecting the environment, and promoting human rights and democracy were among the topics stressed in a speech that enjoined “Europe to rediscover the best of itself”.

Although the press release of the Council of Europe was restricted to the formalities and background to the meeting, it contains useful links to the Holy See’s role in the CoE, the conventions it has signed and/or ratified, and the partial agreements in which it is a member/an observer.

With regard to human rights, he said in his speech to the European Parliament:

“Promoting the dignity of the person means recognizing that he or she possesses inalienable rights which no one may take away arbitrarily, much less for the sake of economic interests. At the same time, however, care must be taken not to fall into certain errors which can arise from a misunderstanding of the concept of human rights and from its misuse.  Today there is a tendency to claim ever broader individual rights; underlying this is a conception of the human person as detached from all social and anthropological contexts, as if the person were a “monad” (μονάς), increasingly unconcerned with other surrounding ‘monads’.  The equally essential and complementary concept of duty no longer seems to be linked to such a concept of rights.  As a result, the rights of the individual are upheld, without regard for the fact that each human being is part of a social context wherein his or her rights and duties are bound up with those of others and with the common good of society itself,”

and at the Council of Europe,

“It also needs to be kept in mind that apart from the pursuit of truth, each individual becomes the criterion for measuring himself and his own actions. The way is thus opened to a subjectivistic assertion of rights, so that the concept of human rights, which has an intrinsically universal import, is replaced by an individualistic conception of rights. This leads to an effective lack of concern for others and favours that globalization of indifference born of selfishness, the result of a conception of man incapable of embracing the truth and living an authentic social dimension.


“I think particularly of the role of the European Court of Human Rights, which in some way represents the conscience of Europe with regard to those rights. I express my hope that this conscience will continue to mature, not through a simple consensus between parties, but as the result of efforts to build on those deep roots which are the bases on which the founders of contemporary Europe determined to build.”

In view of the expected encyclical on climate change and the environment, it was no surprise that he concluded with the statement:

“Finally, among the issues calling for our reflection and our cooperation is the defence of the environment, of this beloved planet earth. It is the greatest resource which God has given us and is at our disposal not to be disfigured, exploited, and degraded, but so that, in the enjoyment of its boundless beauty, we can live in this world with dignity.”


[1] In Italian, although the Il Bollettino links include translations into English and Spanish.


Suggested citation: David Pocklington and Frank Cranmer: ‘Pope Francis, Europe and human rights’ (Law & Religion UK 26 November 2014) (available at http://wp.me/p2e0q6-49v)

Law Society withdraws practice note on sharia-compliant wills

In March we posted on the practice note produced for solicitors by the Law Society of England and Wales on the sharia succession rules and how charitable gifts within sharia wills should be managed. Its purpose was to help the average English or Welsh solicitor with a client who wished to write a sharia-compliant will.

The note attracted a massive amount of criticism (though not, we should emphasise, from us) and today the Society issued the following press statement:

“24 November 2014

The Law Society has withdrawn its practice note on Sharia succession principles following feedback, including from some members.

Law Society president Andrew Caplen said:

‘Our practice note was intended to support members to better serve their clients as far as is allowed by the law of England and Wales. We reviewed the note in the light of criticism. We have withdrawn the note and we are sorry'”.

The practice note no longer appears to be on the Society’s website.

[With thanks to Joshua Rozenberg for the tweet.]

The Marriage Pledge – Its relevance in Europe

Our earlier post, The Marriage Pledge – Reaction within the US, summarized the issues arising in the United States following the publication of the Marriage Pledge on the First Things website: a debate that is still continuing[1]. In contrast to the many individual commentators on and signatories to the Pledge, the Archibsihop and Primate of the Anglican Church of North America has issued a strongly worded institutional response advising ministers not to sign it, pending a detailed consideration of its implications. Continue reading

Religion and Law round-up – 23rd November

Is it really less than a week since the “bishops’ vote” in General Synod?

Oxford and freedom of speech

The Oxford Student reported on Monday that the Censors (who in other colleges would be called the Deans) at Christ Church had declined to grant permission to Oxford Students For Life to hold a debate in the college on the motion “This House believes that abortion culture harms us all” that had been scheduled for Tuesday. JCR President Louise Revell stated that the Censors’ refusal to grant permission to host the event was that “there was insufficient time between today and tomorrow to address some concerns they had about the meeting”.

In a comment posted on the Oxford Student site Neil Addison suggests that

“The actions of the College would appear to be unlawful and contrary to s 43 Education (No 2) Act 1986. The University (which includes the College) has a legal responsibility to ‘ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers’ By caving in to intimidation the College has failed in its legal as well as its moral duties”.

No comment.

Diversity in the Church of England

Elsewhere in Oxford, the fourth Westminster Faith Debate on Diversity at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, proceeded as planned, although several questioners suggested that the panel appeared to be avoiding conflict. Colin Coward’s blog The core issue for the mutual conversations, provides a useful overview of the themes raised and the challenge facing on “how do we arrive at a place where all of us, which our radically different needs and expectations, all of us are able to stay within and value each other within one church.”

Anglican Mainstream carried the post by Andrew Symes, Oxford Faith Debate: Tragic Drama at St Mary’s, which suggested

“in practice the idea of diversity was undermined by bias: taken together with the other four debates in the series, and including the “provocateurs” who are primed to speak from the audience, mine was one of only two or three genuinely orthodox voices in an overwhelmingly revisionist line up for the series.”

A piece on Psephizo by Ian Paul, The state of the (Westminster) debate, commented on the prior Press Release for the event in the light of Archbishop Welby’s address to the November General Synod and the comments made by the ABC earlier in the year. He concludes

“[t]he task of research, and publicly funded research at that, is to tell us what is—and this can never simply translate into what ought to be, unless (of course) it happens to be overlaid with a particular theological or ideological agenda.”

The views expressed by these and other commentators provide an interesting backdrop against which to listen to the debate, a Podcast of which will be available within the next few days.

Appointment of women to the episcopate: vacant Sees

To (further) misquote Harold Wilson, “a week is a long time in the Church of England”. Following Monday’s vote on which we posted here, the BBC ran an article including the odds at William Hill on the first woman bishop. However, the 2/1 favourite, the Very Rev Jane Hedges, Dean of Norwich, has indicated that she will “definitely not” be putting her name forward for an episcopal position in the near future.

Also on 18 November, it was announced that the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, 67, would retire on 11 July 2015, and the Rt Revd Humphrey Southern, suffragan Bishop of Repton in the Diocese of Derby, 54, had been appointed Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon with effect from 1 April 2015.

And on 20 November, a Press Release from the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the Queen has approved the nomination of the Reverend Canon Martin Alan Seeley for election as Bishop of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Appointment of women to the episcopate: Isle of Man & Channel Islands and priests ordained by women bishops abroad

Monday afternoon’s General Synod concluded with a question and answer session, which included the following procedural qualifications.

Q 46: The Revd Rosalind Rutherford (Winchester) asked the Secretary General: What steps need to be taken to ensure that all the components of the legislative package for Women in the Episcopate will apply fully in the Isle of Man and in all the Channel Islands; and can you confirm that these steps have been taken so that the legislation can come into force on the same day as that on which it is expected to come into force in England (17th Nov 2014)?

Mr William Fittall replied: The legislation that has come into force today in England cannot come into force in the Crown Dependencies until the usual processes involving the civil authorities of those distinct jurisdictions have been completed. In the case of the Isle of Man a draft Measure has been prepared, for consideration by the diocesan synod at the earliest possible opportunity on 13 January, and will then need to be submitted to Tynwald. In the case of the Channel Islands a scheme needs to be drawn up in consultation with the deanery synods of the Islands, communicated to the States General for comment, approved by the General Synod and then confirmed by Order in Council. I understand that process is about to begin but it is a little too soon to predict the timescale.

Q45: Mrs Christina Rees (St Albans) asked the Secretary General: Is there any longer a bar on a man or woman who, having been ordained to the priesthood by a bishop who is a woman in another province of the Anglican Communion or in another Church with which the Church of England is in communion, being given to permission to officiate under the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967, so as to make them then to be as a priest in the Church of England, given a Licence or Permission to Officiate?

Mr William Fittall replied: The decision taken by the Synod this afternoon means that it is now lawful for women to be consecrated as bishops in England. The rationale for the bar which the Archbishops have operated up to now under the 1967 Measure has therefore disappeared. The gender of the consecrating bishop will be no longer relevant when applications for permission to officiate are considered.

[With thanks to Peter Owen of Thinking Anglicans for the lead]

Married priests in the Eastern Catholic Churches

On a related theme, the Vatican has lifted its ban on married Eastern-rite priests ministering in predominantly Latin-rite areas. The Catholic Register reports that Pope Francis approved lifting the ban, which also removes the provision that, in exceptional cases, Eastern Catholic bishops in the diaspora could receive Vatican approval to ordain married men: in recent years, some Eastern Catholic bishops went ahead with such ordinations discreetly without Vatican approval. Some Roman Catholic canon lawyers view this as regularizing this situation whereby the 1929 law, Cum data fuerit was circumvented, and whilst Dr Edward Peters welcomes the move per se, he suggests “the real question here is not so much married clergy (for celibacy, strictly speaking, is surely a disciplinary matter) but rather non-continent married clergy in ministry”.

Islam and freedom of association in Azerbaijan

We noted the ECtHR judgment in Islam-Ittihad Association & Ors v Azerbaijan [2014] ECHR 1220 and wondered whether it was symptomatic of a more general issue about democracy and human rights in the country.

Is voodoo a religion?

We posted on the CJEU’s judgment in Think Schuhwerk v OHMI – Müller (VOODOO) [2014] EUECJ T-50/13 about the propriety of registering “VOODOO” as a Community Trade Mark and, somewhat to our surprise, the post was picked up by the C of E’s Daily Media Digest. But the case does raise once again the fundamental question, “What is a religion?”  and we suspect that the judges of the CJEU might not have read the judgment in R (Hodkin & Anor) v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2013] UKSC 77

Santa Claus and Black Pete

This week we posted on the presence of Zwarte Piet, (“Black Pete”) as the traditional “helper” of St Nicholas in Dutch Sinterklaas parades, and the on-going argument on whether Black Piet insults black people and helps perpetuate racist stereotypes; we concluded that

“… it is unrealistic to shrug off the involvement of law and politics so readily: without local or national leadership, it is difficult to see how ‘the community’ might introduce meaningful changes; and it is possible those opposing Black Pete will follow up on the ruling of the Raad van State and bring the matter before the appropriate domestic court”.

However, a Tweet from Hans-Martien ten Napel said that he did not agree with the comment at the end of the post, and that “the debate damages the case of racism and the UN generally, so I’d rather not add to it””.  Which is something of a pity – and was certainly not our intention.

Public holidays, religion and the law

In our post of 25 July 2014 we considered the issues raised in the Westminster Hall debate on whether Eid and Diwali should be public holidays within the UK. Those who think that there cannot be too many public holidays, whatever the pretext, should consider the position in Iraq where, under a law passed by the Iraqi Parliament in April 2013, there are 150 official vacation days. Al Monitor reports that this has an impact on educational achievement and productivity; government, services and construction sectors are adversely affected.

The large number of holidays reflects the complex social structure in Iraq which comprises many different religious, sectarian and ethnic components, all of whom want to celebrate their own holidays. It has been estimated that Iraq is losing $150 billion per year, equivalent to $1 billion per vacation day, given the high frequency of holidays.

[With thanks to Religion Clause for the lead, and to Google Translate which enabled us to read the original article].

The Marriage Pledge

The Marriage Pledge on the First Things website has been widely circulated and has attracted comment within the United States and elsewhere. Two Anglican clergy are asking others to refuse to perform civil marriages as a response to their concerns regarding the changing government definition of marriage. We posted a comment on the American aspects on Saturday: a further post on the wider implications is yet to come.

Quick Links

And finally . . . .

Fr Z’s Parisian reflections “Yeu arr teking zee pheud pheuteaux wit yeur zmarty pheun!” on the two Michelin-starred French chefs who were reported to be cracking down on customers who take photographs of their food, as Fr Z in wont to do. [Note: do not attempt to use Google Translate].


With regard to General Synod Question Q46 raised by the Revd Rosalind Rutherford concerning the application of the new legislation to Isle of Man & Channel Islands, Thinking Anglicans includes the following update:

Rosalind Rutherford asked a supplementary question: I think many members will think it’s regrettable it’s not possible to give a specific date for the Channel Islands, but could you assure Synod that active and practical encouragement will be given to those responsible for the process to ensure that it will take significantly less time than the extra six years it took the 1992 Measure to be applied in the Islands.

Mr Fittall replied: Well we have just broken the land speed record in getting the legislation through the Ecclesiastical Committee in about eight days and through the two Houses of Parliament very speedily after the recess. In relation to the civil authorities in the Channel Islands it would be very good if we could similarly create a new record, but I am afraid I cannot guarantee because that is not ultimately in my hands or indeed in the hands of the General Synod.

The Bishop of Dover asked:  Would the Secretary General find it helpful to know that letters have gone to the deaneries of Jersey and Guernsey to actually start the process already?

Mr Fittall replied: That is very encouraging

The Marriage Pledge – Reaction within the US

The publication of The Marriage Pledge on the First Things web site[1] by the Rev Ephraim Radner and the Rev Christopher Seitz has been widely circulated, and is attracting comment within the United States and elsewhere.  The two Anglican and Episcopal pastors are seeking to encourage priests and ministers to refuse to perform civil marriages as a response to their concerns regarding the changing governmental definition of marriage. Whilst the Pledge is directed at the US, it acknowledges that similar changes are occurring elsewhere, and states, inter alia:

“The new definition of marriage no longer coincides with the Christian understanding of marriage between a man and woman. Our biblical faith is committed to upholding, celebrating, and furthering this understanding, which is stated many times within the Scriptures and has been repeatedly restated in our wedding ceremonies, church laws, and doctrinal standards for centuries. To continue with church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage.” Continue reading

Voodoo: religion or trademark? – Think Schuhwerk

Recently, in Think Schuhwerk v OHMI – Müller (VOODOO) [2014] EUECJ T-50/13 [in French], the Court of Justice of the European Union was called on to rule whether or not “VOODOO” could be registered as a Community Trade Mark (CTM).

Which all sounds very boring: but where it becomes interesting for students of law and religion is that the applicant, Think Schuhwerk GmbH, challenged the registration on the grounds, inter alia, that the term “voodoo” was descriptive and would be used to describe a general style of dress – and in doing so it asked the Court to order an expert appraisal of voodoo as a religion. Continue reading

Politics, law and race: the Netherlands, ‘Black Pete’ and Arts. 8 & 9 ECHR

The arrival of St Nicholas is a major event in the run-up to Christmas in the Netherlands and in October 2013 a United Nations adviser[1] caused a storm of protest when she described Zwarte Piet, (a.k.a. “Black Pete”), the “helper” of St Nicholas, as “a throwback to slavery” and suggested that his depiction should be banned. As a consequence, there was a Facebook “Pietitie” (Pete-ition) defending the custom, which attracted more than two million “likes” in only two days[2] and an assurance from a wrong-footed UNESCO that the Santa Claus traditions in the Netherlands would not be investigated for racism.

Against this background, Continue reading