Religion and law round-up – 19th October

A rather miscellaneous week: religious affiliation, assisting suicide, new Article 9 cases, same-sex marriage in Scotland, the conclusion of the Synod in Rome  and  the importance of telling one brand of whiskey from another…

British Election Survey on religious affiliation

The admirable British Religion in Numbers site has posted the latest data released as part of the British Election Study. According to the BES  which started in the early 1960s  current declared religious affiliations in Great Britain (it doesn’t include Northern Ireland) in response to the question ‘Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?’ are as follows:

  • No religious affiliation: 44.7%
  • Church of England/Anglican/Episcopal: 31.1%
  • Roman Catholic: 9.1%
  • Presbyterian/Church of Scotland: 3.1%
  • Methodist: 2.5%
  • Baptist: 1.3%
  • United Reformed Church: 0.5%
  • Free Presbyterian: 0.1%
  • Brethren: 0.1%
  • Judaism: 0.8%
  • Hinduism: 0.6%
  • Islam: 1.6%
  • Sikhism: 0.3%
  • Buddhism: 0.4%
  • Other: 3.7%

It’s an interesting set of figures but we cannot help wondering how reliable it is: is the Muslim population of Great Britain really as low as that? At the UK Census 2011 the UK Muslim population was 4.4 per cent of the total population  and the vast majority of Muslims in the UK live in England. Writing in Christian Today, Ruth Gledhill is more inclined to take the survey data at face value than we are. Perhaps the difference can be explained by the fact that the religion question in the Census was voluntary but, even so, the BES figure looks like an underestimate.

DPP’s guidelines on prosecution for assisting suicide

We noted the DPP’s announcement of a clarification to the Crown Prosecution Service Policy on cases of encouraging or assisting suicide: a small but significant change clarifying the meaning of those “acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, other healthcare professional, a professional carer [whether for payment or not], or as a person in authority, such as a prison officer, and the victim was in his or her care”. Introduced following comments of the Supreme Court in R (o.a.o. Nicklinson and another) (AP) (Appellants) v Ministry of Justice (Respondent) and R (o.a.o. of AM) (AP) (Respondent) v The Director of Public Prosecutions (Appellant),  [2014] UKSC 38, this demonstrates how important changes in the application of statutory provisions can be introduced through quasi-law.

EHRC consultation

The EHRC’s consultation seeking experiences of ways in which issues of religion or belief has affected people’s experiences in the workplace or in the provision of services in daily life closes on 31 October. Because it’s an on-line consultation the process is rather clunky and, if our (separate) experiences are anything to go by, it’s preferable to write responses in Word, then cut and paste them into the browser.

Strasbourg and Article 9

We noted a couple of recent Article 9 cases:

  • In Begheluri & Ors v Georgia [2014] ECHR 1032, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses complained successfully about thirty cases of alleged religiously-motivated violence and assault in which, pretty clearly, the authorities had either been complicit or actively involved.
  • Dimitras and Gilbert v Greece [2014] ECHR 1023 brought to a close the long-running saga of the Article 9 implications of the obligation to swear an oath in court proceedings in Greece. That requirement in the Code of Criminal Procedure had been lifted some time before the hearing; but Mr Dimitras’s compaint was nevertheless successful.

Westminster Faith Debates

Over at the Archbishop Cranmer blog, Gillan Scott expresses the view that Discerning the future of the Church is not an intellectual exercise and indicates that “the research has been solid, but numbers only reveal part of the story. How they are framed and interpreted is just as important, if not more so.” He further suggests that “when it comes to the future direction of the Christian faith, [Professor Woodhead’s] personal views would appear to take her down a certain liberal route that sees the Church as being a man-made institution, rather than is the embodiment of God’s kingdom on Earth.” The post further cites Ian Paul’s Psephizo blog, in which he states:

 “What has gone wrong here is that theology has been subordinated to sociology, instead of sociology – with its crucial insights as it holds up a mirror of reality to the institution of the church – being shaped by and serving a theological vision. The worst thing the church could be, from a sociological point of view, is a ‘sect’… But Christian distinctiveness is the lifeblood of the people of God; without it, we wither and die.”

Whilst agreeing that discerning the future of the Church should not be an intellectual exercise, we believe that it should be subject to intellectual rigour and underpinned by theological vision. Initiatives such as the Alpha course, the Fresh Expressions initiative, and the work of the St Mellitus theological college are clearly an important factor, but additionally, the Church of England would benefit from the experiences of the Church in Wales that we considered earlier this week.

Same-sex marriage in Scotland

On Monday the Scottish Government announced that it would be possible for couples in an existing civil partnership to change their relationship to a marriage from 16 December, and for same-sex couples to marry from 31 December 2014, i.e. having given the necessary two weeks’ notice as from 16 December.

In his post, Kelvin Holdsworth indicates that he is as yet undecided on whether or not to he will continue to perform legal marriages for straight couples in church:

“until now I’ve been able to marry anyone who was legally entitled to marry. When the law changes I won’t be able to do that, only a subsection of those who are entitled to marry. (i.e. straight couples wanting to marry). If I have a commitment to equality, I must at least ask myself whether I wish to continue to marry straight couples whilst being forced to say no to gay couples.”

“English Votes for English Laws”

Bob Morris, of the Constitution Unit at UCL, provided us with a guest post on one of the unforeseen consequences of the Scottish referendum debate: the increasing calls for that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs to be debarred from voting in Parliament on matters affecting only England. In Deliver us from EVEL? he looks at the issue from the perspective of Parliamentary relations with the Church of England and is not enthused.

Women in Parliament

In the week when the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of “a very short and simple Government Bill which could be taken through this Session to accelerate the arrival of the first women Lords spiritual”, the House of Common Library published the Standard Note SN06651, Women in the House of Commons: Background Paper.  More pertinent to his comments, however, is the relatively recent publication in March of the House of Lords Library Note LLN 2014/008 Women in the House of Lords.

Readers who feel that they are up to speed on these issues might like to try the Quiz: Women and the House of Lords posted on the Lords of the Blog site by Lord Norton, Professor of Government at the University of Hull.

Bishops’ Synod in Rome

Readers will be aware of the Extraordinary Synod The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization, taking place in Rome 5 to 19 October, where the Church has been considering inter alia its teaching regarding reception of the Eucharist by “those living in complex situations”.  From a non-Roman Catholic perspective it is difficult to assess the exact significance of the discussions that have been taking place, with often significantly different points of view expressed by senior clergy.  However, the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has provided comprehensive coverage and summaries, here, the Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, the CofE’s man in Rome for these two weeks, has blogged his reflections on the Synod.  With regard to the canon law implications, Dr Ed Peters has provided an on-going commentary, but the significant news from this second week has been the expected movement of Cardinal Raymond Burke, the church’s chief guardian of canon law, from the head of Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura to a minor post as patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, here.

At the conclusion to the Synod, its final document, the relatio synodi, did not win the necessary two-thirds majority vote in three key paragraphs included in the draft document which called for greater openness towards homosexuals, and divorced Catholics who remarried. Vatican Insider carries a more detailed analysis of the voting, and notes:

“as the text is still only a working document, which local Churches will be discussing next year, Francis decided to publish everything. It is also significant that an absolute majority showed a willingness to examine issues further and continue discussions.”

Quick Links

The next Westminster Faith Debate is on 23 October and will consider Heritage – how can buildings, endowments and pensions become assets not burdens? Speakers will include: Andrew Mackie, the Third Church Estates Commissioner; Sir Barney White-Spunner, Executive Chairman of The Countryside Alliance; Dame Fiona Reynolds DBE, Master of Emmanuel College and former Director-General of the National Trust; and the Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford.

And finally: Midsomer, Durham and Grantchester

Our joint but peripheral interest in the aspects of ecclesiastical law raised in television detective series was picked up this week in a ping-back to a movie-related blog: this concerned part of a controversial episode of Inspector George Gently set in Durham Cathedral, the filming of which was sanctioned by Justin Welby in the brief period during which he was Bishop of Durham.

James Runcie’s Grantchester is less violent than Durham, or indeed the Iconium of his earlier libretto, and we haven’t yet spotted any ecclesiastical law faux pas. However, we did notice that one of the keys in unravelling the death of the Ulsterman murdered in the first episode was that he only ever drank Jameson’s whiskey   whereas in the book he drank only Bushmills, which he was wont to describe as “a Protestant whiskey from County Antrim”. Sounds to us like a crafty bit of paid product-placement.

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