Law and religion round-up – 4th December

A week dominated by arguments about public religious manifestation and, inevitably, the fallout from the Brexit vote – of which much, much more to come… 

Reasonable accommodation in the workplace?

On 30 November at Prime Minister’s Question Time, Theresa May said in reply to a question from Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con), that

“We have a very strong tradition in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech, and our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of. I am sure we would all want to ensure that people at work do feel able to speak about their faith, and also feel able to speak quite freely about Christmas.”

Perhaps coincidentally, the past week saw two publications on manifestation.

The ResPublica think-tank published a report by James Orr, Beyond Belief: Defending religious liberty through the British Bill of Rights, in which he argues that there has been “[a] steady erosion of the fundamental freedom to live according to beliefs held on the grounds of thought, conscience, and religious belief”, that “a growing body of legal judgments suggests that the courts have begun to develop a reductive conception” of the right to manifest. He concludes that the Government should write into the forthcoming “British Bill of Rights” a requirement for employers and public sector bodies to make “reasonable accommodation” for religious manifestation along the lines of the duty to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled persons under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Shortly afterwards, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published its updated Guidance on religion and belief in the workplace, accompanied by Religion or belief – is the law working?which explores the current equality and human rights framework in Great Britain in relation to individuals and organisations and concludes that the current law is largely fit for purpose.

We noted the two publications here. Which view is the correct one remains to be seen – but it is clearly not an issue that is going to go away.

Brexit in the courts: links to written arguments

R (Miller & Anorv Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [With thanks to Joshua Rozenberg]

Reference by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland – In the matter of an application by Agnew and others for Judicial Review

Reference by the Court of Appeal (Northern Ireland) – In the matter of an application by Raymond McCord for Judicial Review

Live broadcast of R (Miller & Anor) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

All eleven justices of the Supreme Court will hear the Government’s appeal – the largest panel of judges to have heard a single appeal, not just since the Supreme Court was created in 2009 but since its predecessor was established in 1876. The entire four-day hearing (5-8 December 2016) will be on the Supreme Court website and extracts will be shown live on television. However, it is likely to be January at the earliest before the judgment is handed down, and much later if there is a referral to the CJEU. When Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston QC was asked how quickly Article 50 could be ruled on in the event of a referral, she is quoted as saying: “If you look at what has happened in the past when we’ve had an accelerated procedure, the answer is probably given within four to eight months.”

Abortion in Ireland

The invaluable Irish Legal News reports that an Irishwoman who travelled to England for an abortion will be compensated by the Irish Government after the UN Human Rights Committee declared that her human rights had been violated. Ms Amanda Mellet was named in a UN report that called on Ireland to amend its abortion laws to ensure that health care providers are in a position to supply full information on safe abortion services and to provide Ms Mellet with adequate compensation and psychological treatment. Health Minister Simon Harris said that the State had offered Ms Mellet an ex gratia sum of €30,000, adding that “Ms Mellet and her husband were gracious in their response.”

Family breakdown in conservative religious communities

The Independent published a report on a fraught and complex custody dispute between a separated couple from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Satmar sect. The mother complained that, following her husband’s exit from the Satmar community in 2013, he had exposed their two children had been exposed to television and other undesirable outside influences.

HHJ Rowe has only recently authorised the publication on BAILII of her three linked judgments in the case, beginning in 2014. We hope to post a note on all three later in the week.

Church of England week in Westminster, 28th Nov – 2nd Dec 2016

This week the Archbishop of Canterbury led a debate in the House of Lords about shared national values and bishops spoke in debates on the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, the UK’s future relationships with the EU and about online safety. Bishops also asked questions about benefit sanctions, supported housing, social rented housing, corporate governance and the relocation of Parliament. In the House of Commons, the Second Church Estates Commissioner answered written questions about veterans, war memorials, the Bishop of London and the Dean of Peterborough.

Replying to the written question by Sir Peter Bottomley on whether a Bishop of London has ordained a woman as a priest, Dame Caroline Spelman stated: “It has long been the practice of the Diocese of London for the Bishop to ordain all deacons, male and female, with Area Bishops ordaining priests in their local community”. A further written question by Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) concerned “the appropriateness of procedures and practice relating to the Dean of Peterborough Cathedral standing down” reflected the Dean’s own remarks in his final sermon, reported in the Church Times. Dame Caroline responded: “there has been no reason to review the appropriateness of procedures and practice relating to the resignation”.

Currency and cartridges

The Bank of England issued its new £5 note on Tuesday 13 September. The New Fiver website reveals that it is the first note to be made from polymer, a flexible plastic material, and it features Sir Winston Churchill. However, the Bank later stated “We can confirm that the polymer pellet from which the base substrate is made contains a trace of a substance known as tallow. Tallow is derived from animal fats (suet) and is a substance that is also widely used in the manufacture of candles and soap.” Many vegans and vegetarians expressed their concern which was shared by a number of faith groups who have rules against consuming or using beef in manufacturing processes.

Readers will recall that the alleged presence of tallow on cartridges for the then new Enfield P-53 rifle triggered the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the rule of the British East India Company, which ran from May 1857 to July 1859; the ammunition for these new rifles had a tighter fit than the earlier muskets and used pre-greased paper. The grease used was said to include tallow derived from beef and pork. This was particularly problematic because the sepoys (local soldiers, the majority of whom were Hindus or Muslims) had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder to load the rifle.

The issue of the new £5 notes resulted in a Twitter campaign, rather than a military one. However, the Bank of England has said its supplier is working on “potential solutions” after more than 100,000 people signed a petition calling on it to remove a derivative of animal fat from its new polymer banknotes.

Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd

Nothing whatsoever to do with “law and religion”, but a news items of some concern to all bellringers: on 1 December 2016, a Press Notice by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd announced, with regret, that

“by May 2017 it will cease its activities at the Whitechapel Road site that it has occupied since its move there in 1738. The company intends to complete work on all projects presently in hand during the coming months. It will not be entering into new contracts for the time being whilst discussions with the company’s staff and other interested parties regarding the future direction, ownership, and location of the company are ongoing”.

An article in the Guardian gives more information about the foundry, which is one of only two left in the UK (the other is JW Taylor & Co of Loughborough). The Guinness Book of Records names it as Britain’s oldest manufacturer. The company has traded continuously since the time of Elizabeth I in 1570: it cast Big Ben and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia PA, and designed the bell used at the start of the 2012 London Olympics.

Quick links

  • Martyn Frampton, David Goodhart and Khalid Mahmood MP, Policy ExchangeUnsettled Belonging: A survey of Britain’s Muslim communities: suggests, inter alia, that there is a relatively large level of support among British Muslims for the implementation of elements of sharia but that the nature of that support is quite “soft”; and younger Muslims were less likely than older ones to endorse it.

  • Anne Stensvold, Religion and the Public Sphere: The United Nations – what has religion got to do with it?: the Professor of History of Religions at the University of Oslo argues that the struggle over values at the UN is not a fight about ultimate truth but about how to accommodate religion in a globalized world.
  • Historic Religious Buildings Alliance (HRBA): December 2016 e-newsletter: forty-three items of news, courses and jobs; subscription strongly recommended.

And finally…

The Church of England Daily Digest on 30 November carried reports that the Samworth Church Academy in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, has claimed the traditional system of pupils raising their hands to answer questions is outdated. In a letter to parents, principal Barry Found wrote: “We find that the same hands are going up and as such the teaching does not challenge and support the learning of all.” To a chorister, however, raising one’s hand during a rehearsal is often encouraged, since this indicates to the director of music that the individual is aware that he/she has made an error and there is no need to revisit that particular part of the music. We wonder how this “no hands up” applies to the Samworth Church Academy Music Department.

13 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 4th December

  1. Why do government ministers keep waffling on about ‘our Christian heritage’? Christians are a minority in this country – everyone knows that, apart – seemingly – from politicians who want to wallow in a misty-eyed nostalgic past which is largely imagined and totally irrelevant to today’s society.

    The suggestion ‘to make “reasonable accommodation” for religious manifestation along the lines of the duty to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled persons’ is ridiculous! People do not choose to become disabled, whereas religious belief is a matter of choice.

    There is simply no comparison between the two situations; only an idiot would think that.

  2. I’m inclined to reply, “Search me, guv”.

    I don’t buy the proposition that we are “a Christian country” either; but the proposition that we have “a Christian heritage” is undeniable. The most obvious manifestation of that heritage is this: just five per cent of all listed buildings are churches but almost half of all Grade I listed buildings are churches in the care of the Church of England. Presumably you wouldn’t want to see Durham Cathedral or Westminster Abbey fall into ruin simply on built heritage/tourism grounds, regardless of their religious significance. Or would you?

    • When you say that these Grade 1 listed buildings are ‘in the care of the Church of England’, that may be so but it is the public purse which is called upon to meet the costs of maintaining the buildings, not the funds of the churches involved.
      I don’t know of any other business in the UK which is so heavily subsidised.
      If the existing customer base is not prepared to support them then perhaps the buildings involved should be sold off to other businesses which can find a better and more popular use for them?
      As far as heritage is concerned, statutory civil and criminal law – and not church law – sets the behavioural framework in today’s society. Historically, Christian ideology had an important influence in the past but its echoes over time have become fainter and fainter.

      • Yes: but who in his or her right mind would buy a slightly-used, Grade I-listed cathedral? No business would readily take on such a liability: it could never be profitable because maintaining the building would be a permanent financial drain.

        • PS: And once a cathedral was deconsecrated it would become subject to listed building consent. And even if English Heritage would let you do anything remotely radical to the building (which it probably wouldn’t), any change of use would presumably require planning permission.

        • In addition, there are occasional, limited schemes like the Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund and the the First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund. But in principle, that’s correct: there’s no regular public subsidy for repairs to listed buildings not in the ownership of the state – whether churches or anything else.

          As to the National Heritage Lottery Fund, there are several denominations that will not seek grant aid from it as a matter of principle because they have moral objections to using the profits of gambling.

  3. The under-used church buildings could be taken over by the state and used to house the homeless.
    That might help to solve the homelessness problem overnight, after appropriate conversions of the buildings.
    This must surely be seen as a far better use of the buildings?

    • But you’d never be allowed to do the “appropriate conversions”: even if you could get the necessary planning permission, you’d never get listed building consent.

      I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  4. Since 2014 alone the Government has spent around £221 million of public money on repairing places of worship, with the vast majority of the money going to the Church of England.

    There is no question that these historic and architecturally significant buildings must be preserved. Religious organisations are responsible for maintaining their buildings and surely public money should only be used to pay for the upkeep of these buildings where there is a demonstrable need to do so. Given that the Church has estimated assets of over £20bn, I do question whether this is an appropriate use of public money.

  5. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 27th August | Law & Religion UK

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