Religion and law round-up – 31st May

A week in which the election of the boss of association football’s international trade cartel generated rather more media interest than the election of Pope Francis ever did…

The Queen’s Speech

There was quite a lot of interest in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday – as much for what was omitted as for what was included. Apart from the obvious issue of the in-out EU referendum, probably the most important items for religious organisations were the following:

  • The ‘protection of charities’ proposals in the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill were largely inspired by the Cup Trust case and were the subject of considerable pre-legislative scrutiny in the last Parliament. Their purpose is to strengthen the Charity Commission’s ability to act in cases where it suspects abusive behaviour by trustees and/or managers by directing that a charity be closed down after an inquiry, issuing official warnings to charities and, in certain circumstances, by disqualifying any person deemed unfit to continue as a charity trustee or to serve in a position of influence within the charity. The social investment provisions, suggested by the Law Commission in its report of September 2014, are intended to clarify the powers of trustees – currently in doubt – to make investments that pursue both a financial and a social return.
  • The Scotland Bill will devolve further powers to the Scottish Parliament, including control over income tax, air passenger duty and borrowing.
  • The Extremism Bill will extend the powers of Government and law enforcement agencies to tackle what they perceive as extremism. In particular, it will provide for:

    • Banning Orders: a new power for the Home Secretary to ban extremist groups.
    • Extremism Disruption Orders: a new power for law enforcement to stop individuals engaging in extremist behaviour.
    • Closure Orders: a new power for law enforcement and local authorities to close down premises used to support extremism.

At the time of writing, the only Government Bills on the parliamentary web site were the  Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords], the European Union Referendum Bill, the Scotland Bill and the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill (carried over from the 2014-15 session as provided for by the carry-over motion of 29 April 2014: HC Hansard 29 Apr 2014 Col 771).

The results of the ballot for private Peers’ bills 2015-16 are here.

As to the “British Bill of Rights, the Gracious Speech included the commitment that “My Government will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”; but whether that was a promise of proposals for consultation or of an actual Bill (whether substantive or in draft for formal pre-legilsative scrutiny) is not clear. Continue reading

School transport & discrimination: Diocese of Menevia v Swansea

The Swansea City and County area contains six voluntary-aided schools: five Roman Catholic and one Church in Wales. The Council introduced a new policy under which, from September 2015, it would no longer provide discretionary free places on the school buses currently used by pupils attending church schools in Swansea: however, at the same time, it proposed to maintain free school transport on a parallel school bus network used by pupils at all of the county’s twelve Welsh-language schools, regardless of the financial circumstances of the families who would benefit. Subject to transitional provisions specifically designed to continue free transport for pupils already attending a particular faith school, the effect of the new policy would be:

  • that pupils attending faith schools would be entitled to free public transport only if the relevant distance criteria were met and there was no suitable alternative school within two/three miles of their homes – and for the purposes of the amended policy a suitable alternative school would include a non-faith school [5]; while
  • pupils living more than three miles from a Welsh-medium comprehensive school would continue to be eligible for free school transport even though there might be an English-medium comprehensive school within three miles of their homes [6].

Continue reading

Politics and the CofE

The commencement of a new Parliament presents a range of new problems for faith groups and other organizations to address, but for professional lobbyists it provides a degree of justification for their raison d’être. The Revd Stephen Heard’s guest post for Archbishop Cranmer The way the Church does politics is largely ineffective is therefore timely, particularly in view of the recent appointment of the Rt Revd David Urquhart, bishop of Birmingham, as Convenor of the Lords Spiritual. Continue reading

Methodist Church review of past abuse cases

The Methodist Church in Britain has today published the report of an independent review of past safeguarding cases related to the Church from 1950 to 2014. Speaking on behalf of the Church, the Secretary of the Methodist Conference and General Secretary the Revd Dr Martyn Atkins has issued a full and unreserved apology to survivors and victims of abuse in response to the report:

“On behalf of the Methodist Church in Britain I want to express an unreserved apology for the failure of its current and earlier processes fully to protect children, young people and adults from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by some ministers in Full Connexion and members of the Methodist Church. That abuse has been inflicted by some Methodists on children, young people and adults is and will remain a deep source of grief and shame to the Church. Continue reading

Jilbabs as trip-hazards: Begum v Pedagogy Auras UK Ltd


Ms Begum was offered an apprenticeship as trainee nursery assistant at the Barley Lane Montessori Day Nursery. An observant Muslim, she believed that her religion required her to wear a jilbab; and on being told that the nursery would not allow her to wear a jilbab at work of what she regarded as the appropriate length – described in the judgment as “a flowing full-length garment that can reach at least to her ankles when standing” [5] – she decided that she was unable to accept the apprenticeship.

Before an Employment Tribunal she had claimed that she had suffered a detriment in relation to the manifestation of her religious belief; but the Tribunal had dismissed her claim. Continue reading

Parenting, religion and conflict: N (A Child)

How should the Family Court treat a dispute about the custody of a small child when a religious conflict between parents comes into play? The issue came before HHJ Clifford Bellamy, sitting as a Judge of the High Court, in a series of hearings of which the most recent is N (A Child: Interim Care Order: Interim Removal) [2015] EWFC 40.

The issue in brief

The history of the case is very complex. N is aged eight. His parents are estranged: his mother is a practising Jehovah’s Witness and his father was described at an earlier hearing [N (A Child: Section 37: Interim Care Order) [2014] EWFC 53] as “nominally an Anglican” [2014:79]. At the suggestion of a Chartered Psychologist instructed by the parties, both parents had undertaken cognitive behavioural therapy. The father was very concerned at what he alleged was indoctrination of an impressionable eight-year-old; the mother, on the other hand, contended that N was a Jehovah’s Witness by choice (and, indeed, that is what N had himself told the social worker assigned to the case). Continue reading

Religion and law round-up – 24th May

Your weekly fix of the most important law & religion stories – and some very minor ones…

Ireland, cakes and same-sex relationships

Perhaps the major law & religion news story of the week was the outcome of the dispute over Gareth Lee’s order for a cake from Ashers Bakery bearing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” and a picture of the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie. He won his discrimination claim in the Belfast County Court: you can read all about it here.

Meanwhile, voters in Ireland voted almost two to one in favour of amending the Constitution to permit same-sex marriage. Voters were asked whether they agreed with the statement: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex” and Roscommon-South Leitrim was the only constituency to vote “No”. Just over 60 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots: the highest turnout at a constitutional referendum in over two decades.

The next steps are for the Government to bring forward amending legislation in Dáil Éireann, with the possibility of the first ceremonies taking place before the end of the year, and for the Roman Catholic bishops to ponder the comments of Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, who is reported to have called for the Church to take a “reality check” following the overwhelming vote in favour of same-sex marriage.

A good start might be Dr Ed Peters’ post “Bad ideas know no borders” in which he addresses the possibility of same-sex marriage in Ireland and concludes “we can and should cooperate with the State in regard to marriage for so long as what the State requires is not contrary to divine or canon law (c. 22). And certifying religiously married Catholics as married in the eyes of civil law is not remotely contrary to divine or canon law.”

[Update: With regard to the referendum itself, Dr Peters has now posted on personal implications for Catholics’ public actions and the [Anglican] Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland have issued a Press Release stating:

“…The Church of Ireland … defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and the result of this referendum does not alter this … Marriage services taking place in a Church of Ireland church, or conducted by a minister of the Church of Ireland may – in compliance with church teaching, liturgy and canon law – continue to celebrate only marriage between a man and a woman.

We would now sincerely urge a spirit of public generosity, both from those for whom the result of the referendum represents triumph, and from those for whom it signifies disaster.”]

The Kirk and clergy in same-sex relationships

The other big news was from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Last week we noted that that the General Assembly had voted to allow congregations to ordain or induct ministers and deacons in civil partnerships. The Assembly returned to the matter on Thursday and considered whether or not to extend that permission to ministers and deacons in same-sex marriages. In the event, the Assembly decided to send the matter down to presbyteries under the Barrier Act – so if a majority of presbyteries votes in favour of the move by the end of the year, the issue will be back on the agenda for the General Assembly in 2016. (In passing, it should be noted that the vote was about ministers and deacons in same-sex marriages, not about whether or not the Kirk should solemnise same-sex marriages: that is an entirely separate question.)

 A British Bill of Rights?

The list of contributions to what has so far been a rather one-sided debate grows longer and longer. We’ve posted two recent items ourselves: Continue reading