Organ donation – with church support

On 26 January, the fleshandblood campaign was launched with the aim of mobilising churches to increase the number of blood and organ donors in the UK – “a call to recognise a need and respond with an act of generosity”.  fleshandblood is a partnership between the NHS Blood and Transplant, (NHSBT) and Kore, “a creative agency that builds socially good ideas”, and is “sponsored by and in association with denominations, organisations and festivals”.

With the strapline

“What if the Church saw blood and organ donation as part of its giving?”

the campaign is being promoted by the Church of England, Salvation Army, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and Baptist Union, and is backed by a wide-range of professionally-produced resources, including: information, (press pack, overview, awareness day material); material for initiating discussion; aspects of donation (stewardship, worship, generosity); a questionnaire; and medical information.

The Church of England issued a Press Release in which the Rt Revd James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle and lead bishop on healthcare, urged Christians to support the campaign and “consider giving more than money”.  This two-year campaign is first occasion on which the NHS has worked alongside the Church on a national initiative of this kind.


The underlying statistics provide a compelling case for action:

  • In excess of 1,000 people die in the UK each year, (i.e. about 3 every day), waiting for an organ transplant;
  • Each day hospitals need 7,000 units of blood and approximately 225,000 extra blood donors needed each year to maintain consistency.

Faith bodies have a long history of encouraging blood and organ donation, and organizationally have a large infrastructure which is well-placed to raise awareness and assist in meeting these needs within the UK.  Subject to certain provisions, most faiths do not object to organ donation and a number positively encourage it. Prior to his election to the papacy, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was known to carry an organ donor card, although this is now inapplicable. The leaflet Organ donation and religious beliefs outlines some of the religious arguments encouraging donation and the support given by senior church leaders.

However, it is necessary to place this new initiative, reliant upon voluntary giving, against the commercial requirements of the NHSBT 2012-17 strategic plan and its target of increasing deceased organ donation by 60 per cent by 2016-17.  The NHSBT has seven strategic themes aimed at delivering this objective, a number of which are supported by the fleshandblood campaign, and its underlying broad action plans include:

  • promoting more widely the economic case for organ donation and transplantation;
  • subject to Cabinet Office approval, marketing plans to sustain and further develop public awareness, especially within  BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) communities;
  • driving performance improvement through reporting a balanced scorecard of performance data that measures national, regional and team performance at each stage of the clinical pathway;
  • optimising transplant activity from living donors in order to enable further expansion in live donation.

Organ donation in the UK currently operates on an “opt-in” basis, although change is in prospect in Wales through the Human Transplantation (Wales) BillThere are important challenges to be met in improving donation rates, and whilst it would be unrealistic for faith communities to ignore the commercial and logistic  realities faced by NHSBT, it would be equally unrealistic for NHSBT to ignore the serious concerns that have been expressed by faith communities in moving to an “opt-out system”, reported here and here.

fleshandblood has the potential to increase donor rates significantly, and by committing their support, the Churches have demonstrated the legitimacy of their inclusion in future policy discussions in this potentially contentious area.

More on same-sex marriage in England and Wales: the Equality (Marriage) (Amendment) Bill

Yesterday, 29 January, Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con) was given leave by the Commons under the Ten-minute Rule to bring in a Bill “to amend the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010 to include a person’s conscientious beliefs about the definition of marriage; and for connected purposes”.

Citing the case of Lillian Ladele (see this blog pretty well passim) and the less well-publicised case of Adrian Smith (the housing manager at Trafford Housing Trust who was demoted for suggesting on his personal Facebook page that same-sex weddings might be “an equality too far”), Leigh’s concern was that those who opposed same-sex marriage might “be mistreated at work”.

He argued that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was to be subjected to inadequate parliamentary scrutiny even though it raised what he regarded as “… profound ethical, moral and … constitutional matters that affect the Church of England [and] … matters of conscience”. He also cited an Opinion by Aidan O’Neill QC – summarised here – to the effect that, in Leigh’s words,

“NHS and Army chaplains may argue their case for traditional marriage in church on a Sunday, but could find themselves in trouble for articulating the same views in their workplace on Monday”.

He was also concerned about the possible effects on  teachers, who even in RE lessons would have to teach in “a balanced way.” The Education Act 1996 requires schools to teach about the nature of marriage; so on that basis, he contended, if marriage were redefined teachers would be required to teach about the nature of same-sex marriage: “Teachers who decline will find themselves in the firing line in the same way as Lillian Ladele”.

His proposed bill was not a blocking measure to stop same-sex marriage; it would simply insert in the Equality Act 2010 protection for a person’s conscientious views on the definition of marriage:

“It would protect those who hold the traditional view that marriage is between a man and a woman, just as it would protect those who hold a contrary view. People’s right to belief and conscientious right to freedom of expression must be protected. That does not mean that those conscientious views override all other considerations, but simply that conscientious beliefs about the definition of marriage are a protected characteristic that must be taken account of”.

Opposing the motion, Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op) – a member of the Church in Wales – took issue on three principal areas.

First, the Equality Act 2010 already provided protections for persons of religion and belief on a principled equal footing with other protected characteristics, including those of sex and sexuality.

Secondly, by opening up debate afresh in a piecemeal way,

“… we could essentially be undoing the work of a great deal of parliamentary debate that took place when we considered where to set the boundaries on “protected characteristics’ and how to balance appropriately the rights of one protected group alongside or against those of another”.

Thirdly, he suspected that the motion was a veiled attempt to prejudge and resolve a problem that, in his view, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill did not create – nor was such a motion the best vehicle through which to pursue the views of this House on such important matters.

Edward Leigh was given leave to bring in his bill by 86 votes to 31 and it was set down for second reading on Friday 1 March. Its prospects of reaching the statute book are precisely zilch: but it’s all part of the continuing story and, on that account, worth a blog post – if only as a foretaste of battles to come.

Lobbying by the Church

Uniformed organizations’ loyalty oaths are not an obvious point from which to begin a consideration of church lobbying. However, recent events have raised some interesting questions in relation to the manner in which this is conducted by religious organizations.  In its Media Release Keeping the Promise of 23 January, the Church of England asks

“those with links to uniformed organisations in the Church and other interested parties to complete the consultations [being conducted by Girlguiding UK and UK Scouting] with a view to the retention of the reference to God and the Queen.”

This was accompanied by a Briefing Paper which summarizes the situation within the two organizations regarding the consultations and urges action

  • through the Diocesan Communications Directors to access the Church communication networks to alert parish members and clergy to the two consultations; and
  • to encourage Guide/Scout members, leaders and other interested Church members to respond to the consultations.

A follow-up Media Release on 24 January, Bishops urge parishes to Keep the Promise, refers to an open letter in the Church Times in which the Bishops of Jarrow, Southwell and Nottingham, Grantham and Truro encourage “all to engage in the public dialogues being run independently by the Scout Association and Girlguiding UK”.  This also provides a link to the Briefing Paper on the CofE site, which reproduces, albeit in a less user-friendly form, the content of the Diocese of London’s Ministry Matters, dated 16 January.


Those who follow the advocacy initiatives of the Church of England may have been surprised to read of its involvement in the essentially peripheral issue matter of loyalty oaths.  This is acknowledged in a section within the Briefing Paper entitled “Why Should the CofE get involved?” [Answer: on account the continuing relationship between many uniformed organisations and their local parishes. More formally it is the role of the Church of England to defend the exercise of faith, especially where it is being squeezed].  However, this raises two more fundamental questions:

  • why did the Church identify this issue of loyalty oaths for lay involvement in the consultation process, and not the more high-profile government initiatives on the marriage of same-sex couples?
  • how desirable (and effective) is laity involvement in general?

Part of the answer is to be found in the responses to the publication on Friday of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill which we reviewed here.  The responses from the Church of England and the Church in Wales were essentially similar, expressing their doctrinal and canon law position on marriage but acknowledging the constructive discussions that had taken place with government.  In contrast to these conciliatory approaches, that of the Roman Catholic Church (EW) was more hostile in tone and focused on reiterating its views on the sacrament of marriage, and concluded by commenting on the “shambolic” consultation process and a hope that the Bill will be defeated.  This statement was accompanied by a link to a postcard campaign Contact your MP, including a concise briefing, relevant links, and pro forma response with “points to make”.

The ‘dark arts’ of lobbying is an area that few individuals or organizations are willing to discuss openly, except perhaps at interview or (as a consultant) when bidding for work.  However, an insight to the workings of the Church of England may be gained from a 2008 paper by Dr Philip Giddings (as Chair, Mission and Public Affairs Council), ‘Voice of the Church in Public Life, GS Misc 898A (revised), which stated

“[i]t is therefore often necessary to judge when our interventions should be made in public, and when our objectives are better served by building on our relationships with key people and offices. It is thus not possible to assess the volume of the Church’s contribution by reports in the media of what has been placed on the public record.”

The relationship between the Church of England (and to a lesser extent the Church in Wales) and government differs from that of the Roman Catholic Church, and given the recent history following the “women in the episcopate vote”, it is perhaps not surprising to observe different approaches to the same-sex marriage Bill.

In terms of lobbying strategy, Stonewall has adopted a similar approach to the Catholic Church, here, and in addition to a postcard campaign has provided links to MPs twitter accounts, here, and other material that can be used on-line and in social media communications.  However, the effectiveness of such strategies is dependent upon an organizational membership that will respond to requests for action, and unlike the Roman Catholic Church,  the CofE does not have an established tradition of laity engagement.

Succession to the Crown Bill: the Commons committee proceedings


The Succession to the Crown Bill has completed its passage through the Commons. Much of the debate has been about technical matters relating to subsidiary Styles and Titles such as the Lordship of the Isles and the Duchy of Cornwall. However, some of the debate related very much to issues of law and religion.

During the first day in Committee of the whole House Chloe Smith reiterated that the changes proposed in the Bill were limited to removing the bar on marriage to a Roman Catholic. The Bill did not allow a Roman Catholic to accede to the Throne, nor did it touch the basis of the established Church. Because she understood that the Church of Scotland does not define itself as an “established Church” she went no further into Scottish matters – but she assured the House that the Church of Scotland had been consulted.

During the second dayJacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con) moved a New Clause to remove the bar on the Sovereign “succeeding to the Crown or … possessing it as a result of that person not joining in communion with the Church of England as by law established”. In essence, what Rees-Mogg proposed was splitting the position of Sovereign and the position of Supreme Governor, so that if the Monarch were a Roman Catholic the next Anglican in line of succession would be Supreme Governor. In addition, the House debated (but did not vote on) his amendments to remove the statement in the Act of Settlement 1700/01 that a child brought up as a Roman Catholic would be deemed “for ever incapable of succeeding to the Crown”.

Rees-Mogg’s basic point was fairness:

“If there were to be no change in our plans for the succession, I would not be the one charging the barricades and saying that we ought to be changing them, but the Government have proposed this change, which they wish to limit to a very narrow sphere. They wish to limit it to making primogeniture equal among males and females, and to allowing marriage to Catholics, without considering the grating unfairness that currently exists in our laws of succession in an age of much greater toleration, and in an age in which so many of the areas in which the Queen is sovereign do not have an established Church”.

Though himself a Roman Catholic, he supported an established Church as “good for the body politic” but an established Church obviously could not have as its head somebody who belonged to another Church because that would be both logically inconsistent and unfair on the Church of England. His proposal was designed to maintain establishment while removing the inherent unfairness in the present situation.

In reply, Chloe Smith said that the Government agreed with Rees-Mogg’s understanding of the Act of Settlement as meaning that a Roman Catholic may not convert to the Protestant faith and then succeed to the Throne – though that had never been tested. The bar appeared to be on anyone who has ever “professed” the Roman Catholic faith, or held communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Once disqualified, the exclusion from succeeding to the Throne was permanent.

The Bill had never been intended to address the religion of the Monarch or of those in the line of succession; moreover, changing the law in this area would require consultation and the agreement of the Commonwealth realms. Secondly, the amendments would add greater uncertainty to the line of succession.

The New Clause would split the role of Supreme Governor of the Church of England from the role of Sovereign, in a method akin to a regency. Such a split would represent a fundamental change to the role of the Monarch in English society in relation to the established Church, and could not be considered without extensive consultation. The Government had no intention of going further than the limited scope of the Bill as presented. The amendments and the New Clause would introduce unwelcome instability and uncertainty.

She reiterated the Government’s commitment to the Church of England as the established Church, with the Sovereign as its Supreme Governor. The relationship between Church and state in England was an important part of the constitutional framework; and the Government had no intention of legislating to disestablish the Church of England. The Government’s view was that allowing a person of the Roman Catholic faith to accede to the Throne would clearly be incompatible with the requirement for the Sovereign to be in communion with the Church of England.

The New Clause was negatived on division by 371 to 38. The Bill was read the third time and passed. The Bill as amended in Committee is available here.

More on public benefit, charitable status and “closed” congregations

We have posted previously on the issue of “closed” congregations and charitable status, particularly in relation to the forthcoming proceedings over the Charity Commission’s refusal to register the Preston Down Trust.

Third Sector has now reported  that it had seen a letter to the Attorney General’s Office from the Charity Commission asking that the Attorney make a reference to the First-tier Tribunal (Charity) to consider the public benefit of religious groups “where the adherents have limited interaction with the wider public”.

The letter, written two years ago by Kenneth Dibble, the Commission’s Head of Legal Services, said that while it would be difficult to estimate the number of other groups that might not meet public benefit requirements they might include the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, the Amish, the Bruderhof and the Mennonites, Hasidic and Messianic Jews and, possibly, some Buddhist organisations. Third Sector quoted from the letter as follows:

“The Commission considers that this matter does require consideration and an authoritative view as to the effect of the Charities Act 2006 following the removal of the presumption of public benefit for the charitable purpose of the advancement of religion and how the assessment of public benefit is to be determined in the context of closed or exclusive religious organisations”.

In the event, the Attorney decided not to make the reference that the Commission requested, the Commission refused charitable status to the Preston Down Trust of the Hales Exclusive Brethren and the Trust appealed the decision to the Tribunal.

A spokeswoman for the Commission said that it did not comment on leaked documents; however, she made a statement (which does not appear to be on the Commission’s website) on behalf of William Shawcross, Chair of the Commission, as follows:

“The issues concerning the Preston Down Trust, currently subject to an appeal before the tribunal, are specific to this particular organisation. I believe the tribunal will clarify the questions of law in this matter. The Commission has not changed its approach to registering religious organisations, which we do according to charity law. I am well aware of the vital role that religious charities have played in British society for centuries.”

According to the Tribunal’s Register of Cases, as at 16 January 2013 the two linked appeals – CA/2012/0003 in the name of Besley & Ors and CA/2012/0003(b) in the name of Armstrong & Ors – have been set down for hearing from 22–28 March 2013 in Court 1 in Field House, 15 Bream’s Buildings, London EC4A 1DZ.

Religion and Law round up – 27th January

What started as a quiet week became slightly frenetic

Adoption and same-sex couples

We noted that the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has directed a Glasgow-based Roman Catholic adoption agency to amend its practices and procedures to ensure that the criteria it applies when deciding whether or not enquirers about adopting will be accepted for full assessment as adoptive parents are clear and transparent and comply fully with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010.

Shades of the Catholic Care litigation in England – but Scots charity law is different, not least because the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 provides at s 7 of for an explicit “outcomes” test that allows OSCR to balance benefits and disbenefits in a way that the Charity Commission for England and Wales may not (or, at any rate, is not allowed to do so explicitly).

Coincidentally, in Family Planning Association of Northern Ireland, Re Judicial Review [2013] NIQB 1 (16 January 2013) the High Court agreed to disclosure of documents that include references to the content of the legal advice and the on-going process of policy formation within the Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety on which the Department has based its approach to the issue of adoption. This is part of the long-running battle over the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which imposes a blanket ban on all unmarried couples (whether same-sex, opposite sex or civil partners) adopting as a couple. In P & Ors, Re (Northern Ireland) [2008] UKHL 38 (18 June 2008) the House of Lords declared this illegal – but precisely nothing has been done to remedy the situation.

House of Lords debates religious freedom

On 22 January the House of Lords held a short debate on freedom of religion and conscience at the instigation of Christopher Hill, the Bishop of Guildford. We summarised it here: needless to say, everyone thought that freedom of religion and conscience was a “Good Thing”.

Church Commissioner briefs House of Commons

On Thursday 24 January the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, answered MPs’ questions on a range of issues concerning the Church of England, here, including: religious education, civil partnerships, women as bishops, the recent ECtHR judgments and the House of Laity. He noted that in her comments on the progress within the Church regarding women in the episcopate, Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) was being “uncharacteristically uncharitable” in describing the document that was produced and put in the House of Commons Library as “shows[ing] no acceleration of the usual glacial way in which the Church of England operates”.

Such a description would, perhaps, have been more accurate if applied to the questions of Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con) concerning the progress of addressing House of Laity elections, to which Sir Tony responded:

“Last year, [actually eighteen months ago in July 2011], the Synod voted to explore alternatives to the present system under which the House of Laity is elected by deanery synod members. I understand that the report, with options for change, will be discussed by the synod at one of its meetings this year.”

Even if this is the July 2013 meeting, a two-year gestation does appear to be quite leisurely. In reply, Martin Vickers commented:

“The unrepresentative nature of the House of Laity is clearly holding the Church back, involving it in interminable, internal debates. Very few congregations are aware of the process of election and very few members of congregations get involved in election.”

Marriage in the C of E: further changes

In addition to the changes to the parochial fees which were effective from the start of the year and reported here, changes were made to extend the scope of the ”qualifying connection” provisions and modify the requirements for reading the banns through the Church of England Marriage (Amendment) Measure 2012 which received Royal Assent on 19 December 2012.  A comprehensive summary of the new measure is to be found in the 213th Report of the Ecclesiastical Committee, here, which contains details of each stage of the Measure’s development: Comments and Explanations of the Synod’s Legislative; Proceedings in the General Synod; the provisions of the Measure; matters raised before the Revision Committee and the General Synod; and an appendix of the Measures and Acts amended by the provision.

The concept of a “qualifying connection” was introduced through the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 to enable couples to marry in a church away from where they live “because it has special significance for you through family or other connections”.  Section 1(3)(a) to (e) specifies seven possible “qualifying connections”. However, it became apparent that certain provisions of the Marriage Act 1949 and associated provision did not apply, including those which enabled a person to marry in other churches in the benefice to which the parish with which he or she has a qualifying connection belongs.  The amended measure resolves these unintended consequences, so that

“persons who wish to marry on the basis of a qualifying connection with a parish are put in an equivalent position to those who marry on the basis of residence in the parish or of being habitual worshippers there”.

With regard to the publication of banns, the 2012 Measure gives legal effect to the form of words in the Common Worship Marriage Service (page 132 paragraph 2)

“I publish the banns of marriage between NN of … and NN of … This is the first / second / third time of asking. If any of you know any reason in law why they may not marry each other you are to declare it.”

– as an alternative to those in the rubric of the Book of Common Prayer. Readers will note that neither form of the banns includes gender-specific terms.

A further change which has been introduced is to redefine the “Principal Service” at which the banns are to be announced. Clergy are no longer bound to read the banns at “Morning Service” but may do so at whichever Sunday service “the greatest number of persons who habitually attend public worship are likely to attend”.

Property taxes and the Latter-Day Saints

Though it wasn’t worth a separate post, at least some readers may be interested to learn of an American case highlighted in Howard Friedman’s Religion Clause blog.

In Green v Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints 2013 MD Ct App  (Jan. 23) the Maryland Court of Appeals held that an apartment-building owned by the Mormon Church and used to house a revolving group of “ordinance workers” (the majority of whom are retired married couples) who perform religious ceremonies full-time for a two-year period at the Church’s Temple in Washington DC was entitled to a property-tax exemption as a “convent”. The court interpreted “convent” as used in Md. Code 7-204 to mean “a community of people who live together, follow strict religious vows, and devote themselves full-time to religious work.”

Upholding the judgment of the Circuit Court, the Court of Appeals held unanimously that the (first instance) Maryland Tax Court had applied an incorrect legal standard in determining whether or not the apartment complex qualified as a convent for purposes of § 7-204 of the Code and that its narrower definition accorded only with certain religious traditions such as those of the Roman Catholic or Anglican Churches.

The relevance of this for law and religion in the UK is that there is an appeal currently pending before the ECtHR in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v United Kingdom 7552/09 [2011] ECHR 733 (12 April 2011) against the unanimous rejection by the House of Lords in Gallagher (VO) v Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [2008] UKHL 56 (30 July 2008) of the Church’s appeal against the decision of the local Valuation Officer not to grant the Preston Temple total exemption from non-domestic rates. The VO had argued successfully that in order to benefit from total exemption a place of “public religious worship” had to be open to the general public – which Mormon temples are emphatically not. Their Lordships also concluded by four votes to one that there had been no interference with the Church’s right to manifest under Article 9 ECHR.

Religious symbols in schools – again 

The Daily Mail reported that a six-year-old boy had been banned from wearing an elastic bracelet decorated with the fish symbol on grounds of health and safety. The boy’s father, who is demanding an apology from the school and keeping the child at home until the situation is resolved, says that he believes that the school is discriminating against his son because he is a Christian.

<At which David observed that the “health and safety excuse” is often the fall-back position of an uninformed manager or an undiscerning headline writer; however, it is inadvisable to comment without direct reference to the facts. He wonders if those involved might usefully contact the Health and Safety Executive’s “Myth-busting Panel”, here, for a professional opinion.> 

Royal Succession Bill

The possible untoward effects flowing from the Succession to the Crown Bill were considered by Bob Morris in his guest post here, in which he concluded

“The relative complexity – emotional, political, legal, administrative – of these issues are no doubt glimpsed by government. Of course, the government does not wish to plunge into these deep waters. It wants a quick, limited fix without too much argument. Commentators are right that there has been too little public discussion, but not all the blame can be laid at the government’s door. What is needed is fresh, bound-breaking thinking and most of that can best come only from within the Church itself.”

A number of MPs and others have suggested that insufficient time has been allocated to the Bill, which is being rushed through as though it were anti-terrorism legislation, and its second reading commenced with a debate on the timetable. The Bill completed its second reading and committee stage on 22 January 2013 and is scheduled to have its report stage and third reading on 28 January 2013.  All documents relating to the Bill are to be found here.

Although certain aspects relating to the Duchies of Cornwall, Lancaster, and Normandy were raised during the debates, time did not permit detailed discussion of the position, other than for the Deputy Prime Minister to reassure the House [at col. 211] that under the Sovereign Grant Act 2011 the financial support provided via the Duchy of Cornwall can, in future, be provided to female heirs to the Throne as well, (Explanatory notes here.  The DPM wrongly gave the date of the Act as 2010).  He also confirmed [at col.212] that although 16 realms have given their approval to the Bill, this is subject to parliamentary endorsement in most of them, though in Jamaica and Papua New Guinea, approval need not go through the full legislative process.

We will be following the progress of the Bill and some of the associated issues.

Royal Styles and Titles

On 31 December 2012 the Queen issued Letters Patent which stated:

“The Queen has been pleased by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm dated 31 December 2012 to declare that all the children of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales should have and enjoy the style, title and attribute of Royal Highness with the titular dignity of Prince or Princess prefixed to their Christian names or with such other titles of honour.”

This increases the number of those within the Royal Family who are entitled to the style of “Royal Highness” and the prefix “Prince” or “Princess” and updates the Letters Patent issued by George V in 1917 which limited the use of Royal Highness to the eldest living son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales and to children of any Sovereign and children of sons of any Sovereign.

The Letters Patent were issued on 9 January, the 31st birthday of the Duchess of Cambridge; but in their present form, if the Duke and Duchess have a daughter, she will not be entitled to give her own children the title of Prince or Princess. Other possible implications have been explored here, although the solution to those relating to Royal Titles may be resolved through Letters Patent, which are issued by the Monarch without reference to Parliament.

<at this point Frank started muttering darkly, “How dost thou, Elizabeth Windsor?”>

Same-sex marriage in England and Wales 

On 24 January the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, presented the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. It was published on the following day, together with Explanatory Notes, and is scheduled for its Commons second reading on 5 February. The Bill makes provision

“… for the marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales, about gender change by married persons and civil partners, about consular functions in relation to marriage, for the marriage of armed forces personnel overseas, and for connected purposes”.

We understand that the Government intends to carry it over into the next Session of Parliament starting in May.

And finally… 

Over at UKHRB Adam Wagner notes that of the 3,308 applications made by individuals in 2012 to the ECtHR that involved the UK only 21 were declared admissible – which rather gives the lie to the accusation that the notorious “unelected judges in Strasbourg” are constantly sullying the pristine purity of English and Scots law.

The House of Lords “doing God” again – freedom of religion and conscience

On 22 January the House of Lords held a short debate at the instigation of Christopher Hill, the Bishop of Guildford, on freedom of religion and conscience.

The Bishop of Guildford drew particular attention to the annual report for 2011 of the US State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom which recorded rising  antisemitism in many parts of the world and pressures on many religious groups: the Baha’i and Sufi Muslims in Iran, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Ahmadis in Indonesia and Pakistan and Muslims in a range of countries, including in Europe. In Nigeria there had been an increase in sectarian violence with a definite religious complexion. There had also been well-documented study on Christianophobia. No-one should be discriminated against on grounds of religion or conscience; and religious communities had to speak out on behalf of others, not only for their own adherents. Equally, faith communities should condemn discriminatory behaviour in their own communities.

Not even the Church of England had a clear historical conscience on religious toleration, as witness the Great Ejection of those who could not accept the Caroline Restoration and the lack of Anglican support for Catholic Emancipation. However, it was equally possible to cite secular attacks on religious freedom – some of which were very recent. His core question was how to make more effective the work being done by individuals and NGOs to publicise breaches of religious freedom.

The EU was developing guidelines on freedom of religion or belief but greater transparency would be welcome. The Organisation on Security and Co-operation in Europe was reconstituting its council of advisers on freedom of religion or belief but, when it had done so, it needed to adopt a holistic rather than a reactive, episodic approach. As to the ECtHR, Eweida had shown that religious freedom was a real human right rather than a nominal one. Nor was religious freedom ultimately in opposition to other rights such as freedom of expression or non-discrimination.

He welcomed the activities of the FCO’s human rights and democracy programme and noted the expertise and experience of the United Kingdom in interfaith dialogue and co-operation. The Church of England was involved in that work and he strongly encouraged such partnership. He suggested that the Foreign Secretary should have an advisory group on religious freedom to work alongside his advisory group on human rights .

Lord Parekh noted that there was lways a danger of equating “conscience” with “religion”, as if a non-religious conscience did not have the same rights as a religious conscience. Atheists and secularists could feel just as strongly, hold certain beliefs just as strongly and be committed to a certain way of life just as strongly as religious people – and they needed to be protected. He was also slightly uneasy about calling freedom of religion a fundamental human right:

“If something is important enough to be a human right, by calling it fundamental one is either guilty of tautology and thus not adding anything or one creates confusion by saying that there can be human rights which are not fundamental. To call something a human right is by definition to say that it is absolutely fundamental and non-negotiable”.

There were two ways of affecting freedom of religion internationally:  positively by persuasion – through moral and political pressure and by setting an ideal example – and negatively be encouraging religious and secular fundamentalism.

It was easy to undermine the conditions in which freedom of religion could flourish in other societies by following economic and foreign policies that created conditions in which religion became an object of suspicion and a source of conflict. Things began to go wrong when the normal rhythm of human relationships was disturbed; and outside intervention could disturb those rhythms by creating conflict, wittingly or unwittingly, and making people feel threatened, frightened and besieged so that they turned on each other as objects of hatred. That was what the West had done by invading Iraq and creating conflict between Shias and Sunnis, by supporting Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabis uncritically and by supporting aggressive secularism in Algeria when the army took over several years ago .

If the United Kingdom was really concerned about freedom of religion it had to make sure that its foreign and economic policies did not create the conditions, wittingly or unwittingly, in which religious groups were at each other’s throats and  freedom of religion became the first casualty of conflict.

Baroness Cox argued that Christianity was the faith now suffering the most widespread and systematic violations of religious freedom, with an estimated 250 million Christians suffering various forms of persecution. She cited residual Marxism-Leninism in China and Cuba, totalitarian repression of any religion in North Korea, episodic attacks on other faiths in India and attacks by militant Islamists. In Egypt, President Mubarak’s downfall had increased pressures on the Coptic Christian community and there had been an exodus of Copts. Similarly, there had been sustained attacks on Christians in Nigeria and Sudan.

She asked the Government to follow the example of the United States and Canada with initiatives such as appointing a religious liberty commission or a special adviser on religious liberty, publishing an annual FCO report on international religious freedom, linking aid to respect for religious freedom and imposing targeted sanctions on key individuals or Governments responsible for serious, widespread and systematic violations of religious freedoms.

Lord Patten said that the pursuit of freedom of religion and of conscience, whether by Governments or by Churches, should be underpinned by two fundamental principles: proper regard for freedom of religion and of conscience at home and an even-handed  approach to those issues abroad, both by the Government and the Churches.

As to the first,  he referred to the case of Ms Nadia Eweida and suggested that if someone in a place of work had said to a Sikh man “Take that turban off” or to a Muslim woman, “Take that scarf off” there would have been outrage. He also referred to the dispute about the charitable status of the Exclusive Brethren, suggesting that the system protected those people who were different in their religious beliefs.

As to the second, he cited three countries where some had suggested that the UK had not been even-handed. Turkey’s record on religious freedom was poor; but successive UK Governments had been muted in criticism of Turkish treatment of religious minorities such as the Alevi Muslims and the Greek Orthodox in Istanbul. In Egypt the so-called Arab Spring had proved an Arab winter for the Copts. Similarly, those of lesser standing among Muslims in Bahrain did not get the right level of attention compared to the minority who actually ran Bahrain.

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds  concentrated on two areas:  the increasing abuse of blasphemy laws – for example in Pakistan and Sri Lanka – and the need for the Government to make it clearer that the UK rejected all forms of religious bullying by providing proper protection for asylum-seekers fleeing from religious persecution. There were refugees from Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere who were terrified of being returned to their countries of origin because of religious abuse; and he felt that freedom of religion, of conscience and of non-religion was not taken sufficiently seriously in the UK. Those who had changed their religion were regarded with particular suspicion by immigration tribunals.

Lord Sheikh said that in the UK freedom of religion was not just accepted but respected and acknowledged as a key pillar of a free and healthy society. The balance was right: and while the Church of England was our official state religion [but only in England: FC] others faiths could flourish without fear of persecution. He was pleased that the Government had  maintained a strong commitment to the promotion of freedom of religion, as outlined in Human Rights and Democracy: The 2011 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report, and that the FCO had joined the Canadian High Commission in London last month to hold a conference on that subject. He agreed with the general consensus that the UK had to play a greater part in promoting harmony between people both at home and across the world. Governments and political leaders had to work alongside religious leaders, civil society groups and, in some cases, the media to help promote good relationships between people of different religions.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston spoke from the point of view of a humanist and drew attention to the inclusive definition in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and to the subsequent UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Their significance was in the interpretation of “belief” to include non-religious beliefs. Those with no religious belief were as diverse as believers – and second in number only to the Christians, according to the 2011 census results.

He suggested that secular organisations such as the British Humanist Association were potential allies for those faith groups active in defending freedom of religion and conscience and opposing oppression: the 25 per cent who declared that they had no religion were in almost every other regard identical to the 75 per cent who ticked the Census box declaring their religion. People in Britain, whether humanists or believers, shared common values – many of those values anathema to the sectarians who refused dialogue. The balance of the sacred and secular contributed to the stability of society.

Baroness Berridge suggested that the title of the Pew Forum’s research report on the Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion said it all. The current global trajectory was not promising.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was not about compulsion or coercion but about freedom – which was why it was so interrelated with the freedom of expression. If one was not exposed to any other views, how could one be said to have exercised freedom of choice?  The fact that individuals in the UK could choose to be secular exemplified that freedom is in operation: the freedom to choose no God at all.

As chair of the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom she was pleased that representatives of several religious groups were working together on the issue. Submissions were currently being sought for the Group’s first report will be entitled, “Article 18: An Orphaned Human Right”. The title of the Report reflected the fact that that human right had not become the basis of an international convention like those on the rights of the child or women.  She felt that, in the wake of the Arab Spring, freedom of religion would be a human rights issue for decades to come.

Lord Collins of Highbury said that there was a clear relationship between oppression of religious belief and armed conflict. The Government’s Building Stability Overseas Strategy recognised that “religious freedom is often crucial to ensuring conflict prevention and post-conflict peace-building” and that “violence against a religious group can be a forewarning of wider conflict” Vast numbers of people of all religions and none faced daily threats of violence simply for exercising the basic human right to practise their faith.

Discussion of issues of religion and human rights was often about conflicts of rights  – or, at least, apparent conflicts. As a humanist he would certainly not elevate freedom of religion and belief over other human rights; nor could they go unchallenged where the safety or rights of others were threatened. Equally, however, religious belief was not merely a marginal right to be considered only when no other rights came into play. Above all, a balance of rights and a recognition of context were indicative of religious freedom as a real, not just a nominal, human right.

As with other fundamental freedoms, religious freedom benefited everyone by creating conditions for peace, democratisation and development. The Government should considered following the example of such countries as Canada and the US in prioritising the issue of protecting religious freedoms.

Replying for the Government, Baroness Warsi said that the FCO and the Government regarded freedom of religion or belief as a key human rights priority. Freedom of religion and belief was a fundamental right and a valuable litmus test of other basic freedoms. Where freedom of religion or belief was under attack,  other freedoms were often under attack also.

At the meeting earlier that day the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Foreign Minister of Canada and Ministers from Pakistan and Morocco had been present, along with ambassadors and senior officials from a wide spread of other countries. She hoped that those discussions would make a real contribution to solidifying the international consensus to do more to combat religious intolerance and promote freedom of religion and belief, using Resolution 1618 as a framework. Freedom of religion or belief was a universal right; and all minority religions had to be protected.

Lord Macdonald had asked what had worked. From her own involvement in Pakistan her answer was this: tough conversations, a consistency of approach, leading by example, being able to talk about the UK’s own experience with regard to religious minorities and making the issue universal in a globalised world.

The right to freedom of religion or belief in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not about abstract discussion or a debate but about the right to be individuals and to be free – and it was very broad, for example the right to manifest through worship, dress and the wearing of religious symbols. She suggested that the ECtHR had come to the right decision when it ruled in favour of Nadia Eweida. Equally, the right to freedom of religion or belief included the right to share one’s faith and to teach others about it and, importantly, the right not to hold a religious faith.

The Government was absolutely committed to religious freedom because  quite simply, lives were at stake. The Bishop of Guildford had asked about a religion or belief advisory group. The group that had existed under the previous Government became unwieldy and, instead, the Coalition had ensured that two members of the Foreign Secretary’s human rights advisory group – Professor Malcolm Evans and The Revd Joel Edwards – contributed a faith perspective and an awareness of international human rights law to its deliberations. The Government was currently looking at bringing in experts in relation to other religions.

The Government’s action plan included: working in multilateral organisations, bilateral negotiations, and project work in a range of countries, working with NGOs on issues such as promoting better understanding between faiths, bridging sectarian divides, promoting dialogue between faith groups and government, and offering technical advice on laws that need amendment. However, Governments alone could not change the landscape: they need the co-operation of civil society to promote messages of understanding and tolerance for the followers of other religions or those without a faith.

The next Government annual rights report, which would include violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, would be published in April. The Government continued to keep open the option of appointing an envoy for international religious freedom but, for the moment, believed that the best course was to continue to make each of the FCO Ministers responsible for defending freedom of religion or belief in the area of the world that he or she covered. The FCO put a huge amount of effort into promoting religious freedom.