‘Living with Difference’: Time for a constructive Christian engagement

We have already posted our own summary of the CORAB report and a critique of the report by Bob Morris. In this guest post, Jonathan Chaplin, Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, continues the discussion.

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The British Christian community is in danger of squandering an important and timely opportunity to contribute to the debate about the role of faith in the public square, a debate marred by much confusion, misunderstanding and ill-temper.[1]

The report

On 7 December, the Cambridge-based Woolf Institute’s Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (CORAB) published Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good, following a two-year national consultation in which hundreds of contributions were received from individuals and organisations.[2] The report proposes a ‘new settlement’ on the place of religion in public life in view of the current rapid shifts in religious allegiance and identity in British society, including the decline in membership of mainline Christian denominations and the significant growth of those who adhere to no religion and to new minority religions.[3] It argues that this growing de facto plurality of religion and belief ought to be better accommodated in the de iure institutional and constitutional status of religion and belief and reflected in public policy.[4]

Aspects of the report’s account of the landscape or religion and belief in Britain can certainly be challenged. Yet it seeks, commendably, a ‘vision … of a society at ease with itself … in which [all] feel at home as part of an ongoing national story … [and] to which all … wish to, and are encouraged to, contribute … to the common good’ (p11). It rebuts secularist attempts to elbow religion into the margins of public life while also legitimately questioning whether certain historically inherited privileges enjoyed by Christianity, such as bishops in the House of Lords, or a Christian coronation, are any longer defensible. The report contains a wealth of valuable information and analysis and offers useful insights on how Britain might better come to terms with its growing religious and moral diversity. Its 37 recommendations are wide-ranging and some are controversial, which is why they merit patient, thoughtful responses.

The responses

Crass misrepresentations of initiatives like this from sections of the mainstream media are, of course, wholly to be expected. Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail excelled himself on that score, accusing the report of dragging us into a ‘multicultural wasteland’. But even John Bingham and Steven Swinford in The Daily Telegraph claimed that the report ‘calls for public life in Britain to be systematically de-Christianised’. It does no such thing.

Oddly, several critics blamed CORAB merely for calling itself a ‘commission’, insinuating that this was some kind of ploy to lend a spurious ‘official’ legitimacy to what is only a ‘self-appointed’ private body operating in civil society. It never claimed to be anything else. It does not pretend to be fully representative of the growing diversity of religions and beliefs in Britain or to speak for all of them. The authority of the report lies in the quality of its arguments alone, which is why it is a shame that so far few Christians have seriously engaged with them.

Accused of succumbing to ‘secularism’, the report overall calls for more public space for religion – which is why the National Secular Society rejected it as ‘completely at odds with the religious indifference that permeates British society’. From a legal perspective, church-state expert Bob Morris criticised it (unconvincingly, I think) for ceding too much ground to the special interests of the religious groups represented on the commission, at the expense of the public interest.

One might have hoped that wider Christian responses would have been more affirming, yet most I have seen have been overwhelmingly negative and often summarily dismissive.[5] The Evangelical Alliance, at least, announced that it ‘welcomes the call in this report for government to acknowledge and embrace authentic plurality’ and promised to ‘play our part in securing a free and diverse future, and continuing the evangelical contribution to the common good’, while noting areas of concern. Others were less generous.

Ruth Gledhill trashed the 100-page report in 400 words on the day of its release as a ‘wasted opportunity’, under the headline ‘the worst report I have ever read’, leaving one doubting whether she had actually read it. Campaigning organisation Christian Concern also repudiated it outright on the same day without offering any analysis or counter-argument. It merely declared that ‘pluralism can only ever deliver greater fragmentation and confusion, as the last few decades should have taught us’ and that only Christianity can provide a ‘coherent narrative that is sufficiently robust to give us direction and real British values’.

The Church of England Newspaper (CEN) erroneously asserted that the report ‘recommended that any vestiges of the UK being deemed a Christian society should, in effect, be killed off’, rejecting the report as ‘classic multicultural dogma’. In the same issue Andrew Carey brusquely advised readers to ‘move along, nothing to see here’ (while then noting several welcome recommendations). He asserted that the commission had fallen victim to a ‘default secular pluralism’ but without pausing to define this term or cite any textual evidence behind it. (Later, however, CEN did give space to commission member Angus Ritchie to defend the report.)

In the Church Times, even the normally measured Paul Vallely waved it aside as a ‘hotchpotch’, charging that it was an ‘ideological document that assumes from the outset that liberal humanism is the only sensible option in a diversifying society’ and that it sought to ‘neuter [faiths] with an impoverished secularism’. He too cites no textual evidence for this claim and I think he would struggle to do so.

A few more thoughtful, albeit still decidedly negative, commentaries did appear. Jenny Taylor from Lapido Media welcomed the report’s recommendations on religious literacy (its chapter on the media is one of its better ones) but, under the headline ‘Public religion report is recipe for social breakdown’, alleged that it ‘continues the half-century-long war of attrition against the Christian character of the country’. She formulated what is, admittedly, a widely-held position in certain British Christian circles:

‘By effectively saying that the public space is “pluralist”, it further privatises any one expression of faith as true. The report makes no attempt to acknowledge or appreciate the debt the nation’s public life owes to Christianity. Perhaps the incoherence was unintended, but the outcome effectively makes a religion of having no religion-in-particular, and the effects of that are worrying. It is naïve to believe that a new set of fundamental values to underpin public life can be determined merely by pooling the ethical aspirations of all faith and ethical traditions in the nation.’

However, as I suggest below, to accept that ‘public space is pluralist’ is not at all to imply the privatisation of faith. And if public values can’t be supported and nurtured by a wide variety of faiths and beliefs, then we are indeed in danger of social breakdown.

Director of Mission and Public Affairs for the Church of England Malcolm Brown suggested that CORAB had been taken ‘hostage’ by a version of secular liberal humanism. In what is nonetheless the most sustained Christian response I have seen so far, he correctly notes that ‘morality and ethics cannot be understood properly without locating them within a framework of traditions, communities, narratives and practices’. Yet he goes on, problematically, to attack the

‘fiction that the state should adopt some kind of neutral position in order to accommodate … the diversity of religions and beliefs within society. This is a fiction because nobody comes from nowhere. There is no neutrality; no “trusted umpire” to hold the coats whilst “religions and beliefs” slug it out in the public square’.

Well, there had better be. Brown elides the vital distinction between the moral neutrality of the state (a fiction indeed) and the legal doctrine of the religious neutrality of the state. The latter is in no way incompatible with a full recognition of the importance of plural traditions. On the contrary, it is the guarantor of their protection against hegemonic majorities and a means to ensure that when they ‘slug it out’ in the public square (as they should), they do so peacefully. The principle is quite properly upheld by the European Court of Human Rights, which denies to the state ‘any power…to assess the legitimacy of religious beliefs’ and also ‘requires the State to ensure mutual tolerance between opposing groups’ (Refah Party v Turkey, 2003, §91).

Brown too hastily dismisses the report’s call for ‘equitable’ solutions to tensions thrown up by religious diversity. True, the report does not define the term precisely, and yes, ‘equity’ should not be read as mandating strict arithmetical proportionality. But consider this: there are about 6000 state-supported schools of a Christian character in England and Wales, but only about a dozen Muslim ones, even though Muslims now number 5% of the population. Is there no issue of ‘equity’ here at all? Is the Church of England, which likes to present itself as the ‘host’ and champion of religious minorities, entirely relaxed about that distribution of public educational resources?

Brown’s deeper concern is about the report’s supposed ‘assumption that the growing number of people who report that they have “No Religion” can safely be assumed to be, de facto, humanists and that, ergo, they can be adequately represented by humanist organisations’. I have searched diligently for this assumption in the text (Vallely also claims to spy it) but have returned empty-handed. Nor do I recognize the broader charge that CORAB propounds a secular liberal humanism.

Vallely, Taylor, Brown and others overlook the substantial theological arguments in favour of state  impartiality towards a plurality of extant religions and beliefs, and that this is the surest way to protect their public standing. Rowan Williams calls this ‘interactive pluralism’, evangelical commentator Os Guinness terms it ‘chartered pluralism’, and orthodox neo-Calvinists dub it ‘principled pluralism’. It is also implicit in Vatican Two’s epochal Declaration on Religious Freedom. It is grounded in a profound Christian commitment to freedom of conscience and the vocation of all to contribute to the common good according to their own lights. This version of ‘pluralism’ is not a concession to secularism but an attempt to deny it a public monopoly.

Some problems

The commission traversed an ambitiously wide range of territory and so it is hardly surprising that the report contains several weak spots. Here are four examples.

First, the report indeed does not sufficiently acknowledge the implications of the formative historical predominance of Christianity in British public life (the place to have done that would have been the all-too-brief section, ‘The ongoing national story’, pp21-22). The further, and distinct, claim by some critics that this legacy has bequeathed to us many of our valued political and civic norms and institutions is a more contestable one that demands precise formulation and defence; it isn’t enough for critics merely to assert it. Yet the report shows no curiosity at all about this question. At one point it reports as fact that modern civic values like reason, dissent, toleration, rights, democracy and the rule of law all derive straightforwardly from Enlightenment humanism rather than Christianity (p15; cf. pp17, 18). Yet the work of contemporary philosophers such as Alasdair McIntyre, Charles Taylor and Larry Siedentop demonstrates that this is a highly dubious assertion. In fact, commissioners need only have consulted the important work of one their own patrons, Rowan Williams’ Faith in the Public Square, to have recognised this.

Second, the report’s operative conception of ‘pluralism’ is poorly-defined, leaving unclear the sense in which members of diverse communities should, as the report counsels, be ‘embraced’ by society (p7). For while all (lawful) religions and beliefs should certainly be guaranteed equal legal protection, civil respect and suitable access to public resources and fora, neither individual citizens nor public bodies are under any duty to affirm the content of the beliefs or practices of others, nor, therefore, to ‘welcome’ just any ‘difference’, as the report implies (p25). Indeed some citizens will feel under a compelling duty to criticise or condemn such beliefs and practices, even if lawful.

At points the report seems to get this, recognising that ‘embrace’ does not imply ‘endorsement’. It commends the anti-poverty work of the Booths in Victorian England as an example of how ‘the demand to integrate must not be allowed to silence the prophetic and disturbing voices of those who challenge injustice’ (p66), and expresses concern that the Lobbying Act might inhibit charities from criticising government policy (p65). Yet, chapter 6, on ‘dialogue’, left me wondering whether it would, for example, accept that the charge of ‘injustice’ might also be legitimately brought against the very regime of equality and human rights law that the report frequently invokes.

Third, as many commentators quickly observed, the report presents an inadequate account of ‘faith schools’. On the positive side, it offers robust support for religious education, proposing a better curriculum and better training (pp33-34). Its proposal that secular humanism be mandatory in the RE curriculum (p37) is, to me, compelling (albeit now abruptly rebutted by the government) – how else could children learn to identity and critique the ‘secular liberal humanism’ that is so influential in public life and that critics themselves claims to see in this report? The report’s proposal for a tightening of church schools’ admission policies is controversial but at least merits ongoing debate. Its questioning of whether a ‘mainly Christian’ daily act of collective worship is any longer sustainable (in non-church schools) (p37) is surely valid – this isn’t ‘de-Christianisation’ but rather a call to end publicly-funded spiritual hypocrisy.

Yet, as commentators have been quick to point out, the report fails to draw the fundamental distinction between church schools, which are long-established and much in demand, and newer private faith schools which are of a wholly different character (many perfectly fine, some deeply troubling). It implies that that all ‘faith schools’ are ‘socially divisive’ (pp33, 36, 38) whereas in fact many church schools, especially Anglican ones, are key integrators of their local neighbourhoods. Given that the Church of England’s most senior education officer, Nigel Genders, made a submission to the commission, this is a surprising misconstruction (see his subsequent response here).

Fourth, while the chapter on law is in some ways measured and constructive (e.g., it affirms the need both to combat Islamophobia and to scrutinize ‘sharia tribunals’), it regrettably fails to throw its weight unreservedly behind the formal recognition of the principle of the ‘reasonable accommodation of religion and belief’. This requires that, where generally applicable laws (e.g. in employment) produce substantive and unjustified inequality of treatment for adherents to certain religions or beliefs, such adherents may be entitled to exemptions, as the law currently allows in limited circumstances (p70). The report’s weakly-argued judgment that the formal recognition of such a principle in British law wouldn’t make much difference to the protection of religion and belief (pp72, 77) is a missed opportunity to strengthen exactly the kind of pluralism the report seeks to champion.

The future

In any event, whatever we make of such questions, they illustrate the kinds of debate that the report invites, resources and demands. They touch on different dimensions of the new ‘settlement’ on religion in British public life that we most assuredly need – unless you think that our current jumble of ad hoc, inconsistent and often resented arrangements are already just the ticket.

Commentators find themselves under almost irresistible pressures to produce instant media responses to documents like Living with Difference. But some might pause to reflect on whether they should have put out holding responses (rather like the EA’s) and taken more time to digest the report’s actual arguments. There is still time for Christians to do that work of digestion and to formulate more considered contributions to the ‘national conversation’ that the commission seeks to facilitate. I hope those in a position to do so will yet seize the moment before it slips through our fingers.

Jonathan Chaplin

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[1] Strictly, I should say ‘English Christian Community’ as all the participants in the debate I discuss are based in England.

[2] KLICE has no connection to the Woolf Institute and did not contribute to the report.

[3] There is, however, now evidence that the long-term decline of Christianity in Britain is being reversed, notwithstanding the continuing decline in mainline denominations. This complicates the account of decline in the report.

[4] For a useful overview, see Frank Cranmer on the Law and Religion site.

[5] An inventory of responses can be found here.  See also the excellent rejoinder by CORAB member Angus Ritchie, and a stout defence of the report by CORAB convenor and Woolf Institute Director Ed Kessler.

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Cite this article as: Jonathan Chaplin, “‘Living with Difference’: Time for a constructive Christian engagement” in Law & Religion UK, 22 January 2016, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2016/01/20/living-with-difference-time-for-a-constructive-christian-engagement/

Cross-posted, with permission, from the Kirby Laing website.

16 thoughts on “‘Living with Difference’: Time for a constructive Christian engagement

  1. Pingback: ‘Living with Difference’: Time for a constructive Christian engagement – Law and Religion | Fulcrum Anglican

  2. The living with difference, constructive engagement: whilst I respect Frank Cranmer’s representation of his views on others’ views of the report, I feel it misses one or two very important points. The first main point or more accurately sticking point is that the only reason it is difficult to have a fully pluralistic government and society is because we are a Christian society which has its core values freedom of choice. Other religions do not offer this, so wherever there is an infringement on freedom each communication starts with a superior aspect, ie that other religions believe that superiority of God means they must do as God says or suffer consequences in this life. Christianity on the hand states that denial of the eternal life is the consequence of disobedience. This is the major difference: deferred retribution..

  3. The second main point is we have many mixed race and inter-relational families. So in terms of laws of the land how can a mixed-marriage household act out two sets of laws, there has to be one until a child or person is deemed old enough to understand the consequence of decision and all its consequences. This then throws issues up for equal rights between men and women or same sex partners as to who is “head” of household in instances where the religion does not give freedom of choice. The law states the child’s welfare is paramount but how is this judged with different religious laws and rights. My own household, although I was in care most of the time, was/is a mixed race household Hindu and Christian or not bothered in my mother’s case: it does bring up issues, in terms of karma etc. However we just do our own thing, as it were: inclusion could not be an option.

  4. I think that one of the key points is “the vital distinction between the moral neutrality of the state (a fiction indeed) and the legal doctrine of the religious neutrality of the state”. No-one would presumably contest the assertion that the values and roots of Western liberal society are grounded in Judaeo-Christian history and moral teaching; but in a plural society the state is obliged to hold the ring between different moral and religious (and non-religious) views. As Laws LJ put it in McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd [2010] EWCA Civ 880:

    “The promulgation of law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds cannot … be justified. It is irrational, as preferring the subjective over the objective. But it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary. We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion ‒ any belief system ‒ cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens; and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic” [24].

    There’s nothing I can usefully add to that. For some further thoughts see my earlier post: Respect for religion: the judge’s dilemma.

  5. It is impossible to have “moral neutrality of state” as all of our Laws are based on biblical teaching in the first instance, just the concept of Law is biblical. So that being said I considered the plurality issue and came to the conclusion, that actually we all used the same Bible in the beginning no matter what religion in the beginning we had the Old Testament all of our countries Laws sprang from that so it is impossible to completely separate religion and law. So what we are left with is the interpretation of Law. The bible is a complete book made up of many collections of writings from those who experienced it at the time, redaction has of course played a role in the interpretation , but The new testament for instance and the Old testament have links so the Ten commandments remained in place after the Prophesy of Isaiah that A saviour would be born , that was a promise which gave an expectation that expectation was in essence what gave hope and stopped the people of the time from destroying one another. We have been here before many times, Plurality and the challenge of living with difference are all part of the same road. It is perhaps no coincidence that the longest surviving road in the world spanning the most countries is the Roman road for which parts are still being discovered. That road connects the Old and new through New testament and the letters of Paul to the various communities. That however is only the practical aspect of the issues of plurality. In this country and others change and create new laws all the time, some new laws oppress and some give freedom to express. But the main issue is that all religions started with the same Bible. It is the said bible which the Ten commandments are taken from. Christ then as promised in Isiaih came along and changed the laws of the Old testament but not totally for he simply set the example of how to deal with those that misinterpreted the Law. So just as the Law society may change or tweek a law Christ made the biggest change of all not only did he say “thou shalt not, “but he said” thou should” love one another as I have loved you” so plurality can only be possible if ” the latest biblical update ” of the Law is enforced . It is of course the hope which has already been realised and it can be realised again, it is possible to have a pluralistic society if there is recognition that the Law is based on the Old Testament and the “reactions” to those who transgress are based on the New Testament ie ” love one another as I have loved you” This was and is and is to come the last commandment. So I find it difficult to accept the argument that because we do not live in a religiously uniformed society that people would be “less than citizens” if we accept that humanity is what makes a human race. Christ in human form and God in deity form In their duality in the presentation of 3 at the final outcome (trinity) Gave freedom and as we know freedom gives consequences. It is the same freedom which causes “difference” there is a kind of uniformity in difference if we accept that wholeness of people, cultures and countries need each other’s differences to be whole.That’s where plurality has difficulty because if the consequence is death the opportunity for wholeness is denied.
    Thank you for your response I hope you appreciate mine and that any difference in our opinions will simply be different threads on the same tapestry.

    • No they aren’t. Are you seriously suggesting that (eg) the Infrastructure Act 2015 is based on biblical principles? If so, which bits of the Bible would you cite in support of it?

  6. Of course I was referring to the “moral” laws ie “thou shalt not steal” in this case it might be appropriate, as when planning fracking and pulling down buildings whether to replace them or not, if you take from the weaker/poorer there is an immorality about that. However if they are being pulled down to provide more housing etc for the poor then that surely fits with biblical principles. But yes in answer to your question I would suggest in this instance looking at Deuteronomy and the usurping alongside the parable of the coins. And Romans the strong shall care for the weak. But actually I was answering the point that we cannot be morally neutral so because our laws evolve from the original laws of Moses.

    • No: surely it’s much more complicated than that. Certainly there are laws that can be said to be derived from Christian/biblical principles but there are others that are not. The Slavery Abolition Act 1833, for example, was not only not derived from biblical principles, it was contrary to them: see Eph 6:5, Col 3:22, 1 Pet 2:18. I’m sure you, like me, regard slavery as utterly abhorrent – but evidently they didn’t so regard it in biblical times. Or, if you try stoning people for adultery [Deuteronomy 22:22] you will be imprisoned – and quite right too. And a lot of laws aren’t about moral principles at all, but simply rules for the orderly conduct of society: there’s no moral issue about which side of the road we drive on, just so long as we all drive on the same side. And other laws are almost entirely about process rather than policy.

      But going back to Laws LJ, no: all religions did not start with the same Bible. Hinduism didn’t, Buddhism didn’t, Jainism didn’t. “We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs.” And because we don’t, the law has to be based on something more widely accepted in society generally than Judaeo-Christian morality – even if Judaeo-Christian morality is (inevitably) one of its major influences.

  7. I understand the point that you make, as you say it is about more than that, it seems that the books of the bible were written to accommodate the human circumstances of the time, it was because people were being beaten stoned and murdered that Christ died. But I also understand that the law of the land does work to keep order, part of that is a moral issue in terms of prevention i.e. drive on the right side of the road or you may murder somebody. But that is a minor point in the greater picture. When it comes to the bible and society in whatever age , one of the things to consider is the fact that society is not static, it is constantly evolving. Evolution has growing pains as we can all resist change, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad , but it is part of humanity to both enquire and to resist, part of the reason for that is people want to feel safe. I think as a society in this country collectively we have improved we no longer blame a whole nation for the wrongdoings of a few. We don’t do it over religion either we do not blame all Muslims for the works of a few: the problem is that the edges are blurring and we are veering towards having no religious identity. I do not agree with Sharia Law: I do not think you can have a two tier law system in one country. I think there has to be one set of values to aspire to with the option to reject but not to disrupt. It is difficult. There are difficult times ahead, it appears that we will be faced with choices of suppressing our expression of faith in order to save it, just like when the Israelites were led in the darkness, our best weapon is to understand the enemy not necessarily agree with them, but that is made more difficult by a blurred cultural identity. So it brings us back to accepting difference so long as it does not harm. Using positive and preventative intervention. I think we need to change the way we teach about security, so that it is seen as a safety rather than a harmful intervention.

    • I don’t agree with sharia either. I suspect that where we probably part company is over this: in my view, no religious legal system should have precedence over secular law – and in the UK it does not. If, however, people wish to observe religious laws as private citizens, then so long as in doing so they don’t act contrary to secular law they must surely be free to do that. If, for example, an observant Orthodox Jewish woman feels that she cannot remarry because, although she’s been divorced in secular law, her estranged husband will not give her a get, that’s her choice and it’s not for us to interfere with it. After all, in secular terms she could just walk away. Similarly with those who freely choose purely religious weddings rather than weddings registered by the civil authorities: if that’s what they wish to do, who are we to stop them? Is it any different from a couple that chooses to live together without getting married?

      Where a problem arises, it seems to me, is where there is any element of compulsion or coercion: most obviously in forced marriage. But that’s illegal anyway under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

  8. You make very valuable points. I agree with a lot of what you say, even that there needs to be one secular law, and it needs to stand independently from religious coercion. I think it is a little more difficult to define compulsion as apart from faithfulness and coercion is a lot more difficult because of the hermeneutic element. It is included in the Anti social and Policing Act, however because of the individual nature of people, what may be frightening or threatening to one person may not be to another. So we appear to wander into the realms of domestic violence in the home and emotional/spiritual abuse outside of it. Do you think that people who are “brainwashed/radicalised” are able to recognise that for themselves? I do not think they are, that is the problem what is the fear that drives a person to harm, that could be a child or an adult,? We also need to ask what is the fear that makes either “over compliant”. I like to please people but I don’t think I am over compliant, but then do we look at evangelist and consider them to have a compulsion, indeed is it always bad to have a compulsion? I once told people I was a little disturbed and that the day I was not disturbed by certain things was the day I was no longer alive, are we not supposed to feel that strength of emotion ? But I do recognise that if it prevents a community or a person from functioning that is when it is negative. I also have this nagging thought in my mind, and that is are these things defined according to class or reputation? Is that the gap that enables some to do the wrong thing? It does concern me that without good balanced education or education that can be clarified that signs are missed or misread.

  9. Frank,
    I sent a small contribution to the Ministry of Justice consultation on marriage in August 2014. I have just been reading your discussion above. May I say that you present a sound secular position on this issue. However I have a problem with your statement:-

    Similarly with those who freely choose purely religious weddings rather than weddings registered by the civil authorities: if that’s what they wish to do, who are we to stop them? Is it any different from a couple that chooses to live together without getting married?

    My line in my contribution to the consultation was that marriage is a contract between two people and between those people and the State. A contract is required because privileges and responsibilities vis-a-vis the participants and the State are a result of marriage (nationality, responsibility towards children of the marriage, tax advantages) and even between the participants and non-State entities (pension funds). Consequently, all marriages should be registered by the civil authorities. I would like to see the seriousness and consequences of these contracts made clear and to do this I think both any religious ceremony and the non-religious celebratory activities detached in space and time from the legal process of making the marriage contract… as they are in Austria. (Perhaps this is a survival from the Napoleonic Code?)

    It is for this reason I find myself at odds with the British Humanist Association which wishes to license Humanist celebrants to conduct (quasi-religious) wedding ceremonies.

    Of course, if two people have no wish to enter into this contract with the State they should (and are) entirely free not to get married.

    Regards,

    Alan Rogers

    • Alan

      That’s not quite my point: if people make a positive choice, without any coercion, to have a religious marriage only and not engage with the civil law at all then (in my view) that’s a matter for them: but in that case, having made that choice they can’t then expect to be treated as married in the eyes of the law.

      As to your general contention, I wouldn’t go as far as that: I think the simple answer to the tangle of marriage law in England and Wales is to adopt the Scottish system or something very like it. But we’ll see what the Law Commission says.

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