Law and religion round-up – 2nd July

From Hung Parliament to Bung Parliament…

…male Members without ties, and even more bishops.

Abortion in Northern Ireland

Last week, one year on from hearing oral argument, the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal overturned the ruling at first instance by Horner J in which he held that the abortion law in Northern Ireland was incompatible with the UK’s obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998 in circumstances where the foetus had been diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality or where the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Simultaneously, however, the BBC reported that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had announced in advance of a likely vote on the issue in the House of Commons that women from Northern Ireland would in future be able to obtain NHS terminations in England. We noted it all here.

Apart from which, the talks on a power-sharing Executive failed to meet the deadline set by the Secretary of State and were extended until tomorrow.

Street preaching

Two street preachers, Michael Overd and Michael Stockwell, who had been fined in February for a religiously-aggravated public order offence – preaching to shoppers at Broadmead Shopping Centre in Bristol – have won appeals against their convictions. As we reported at the time, South West District Crown Prosecutor Chris Holland commented that “Shoppers and traders on that day had a right not to be at risk from the fear of disorder breaking out as a result of what was being said. The court has ruled that these men used their platform to comment on other religions using offensive language.”

At Bristol Crown Court, however, HHJ Picton quashed the convictions. He was reported as saying that he was “conscious of the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression” and that it was not proved that the offence was religiously aggravated. [With thanks to Daniel Hill.]

News from Trumpton: Trinity Lutheran

We previously mentioned that in January 2016 SCOTUS had accepted an appeal on the matter of the refusal by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, on constitutional grounds, to let a school run by Trinity Lutheran Church take part in a state programme that resurfaces school playgrounds with rubber from recycled tyres.

The Court has now handed down its decision; and in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v Comer 582 US ____ (2017) it found for the appellants by 7:2. The Court held that the Department’s policy had violated the rights of Trinity Lutheran under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by denying it an otherwise available public benefit on account of its religious status. In addition, the Court noted that it had repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally-available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposed a penalty on the free exercise of religion.

An ecumenical matter

On 27 June, the Church of England issued a press release with proposals – Mission and Ministry in Covenant – for consideration by the Church that would bring it and the Methodist Church in Britain into a new relationship of full communion, after a period of some 200 years of formal separation. The joint report from the two churches’ faith and order bodies sets out how the Methodist Church could come to have bishops in the historic episcopate, and how ministers from one church could become eligible to serve in the other.

Thinking Anglicans commented, “The Methodist Church has published its own press release. Although this ends ‘The report has now been released for discussion in the Methodist Conference this week and the Church of England’s General Synod in July’, the report is not on the agenda of either meeting.”

AMiE and the missionary’s position

Last week, the Anglican Mission in England announced that it had consecrated the Revd Canon Andy Lines as “a missionary bishop for such a time as this”. He joins the Revd Jonathan Pryke in the role of episcopus vagans Britannicus.

Cardinal charged with sexual abuse

The police in the State of Victoria decided to charge Cardinal George Pell with historical sexual offences after receiving advice from prosecutors. Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said that the allegations had been made by a number of people. Pell, who protests his innocence, is to appear before Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 18 July.

The Tablet reports that Cardinal Pell will be taking a leave of absence from his job running Vatican finances so he can return to Australia and defend himself against the accusations, which he strenuously denies. This will be problematic for the Vatican: “not only is the cardinal the highest ranking Church figure to be changed with sexual abuse of minors, but he is one of Francis’ closest aides, a man who is both leading a crucial Vatican reform effort and who sits on the Pope’s body of nine cardinal advisers”. This will be compounded by Tuesday’s resignation of Libero Milone as the Holy See’s first “auditor-general”.

To lose one Cardinal Prefect may be regarded as unfortunate, to lose two…

The Vatican announced on Saturday Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the German Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, would not serve beyond a single 5-year-term and would be replaced by a Jesuit, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, the congregation’s deputy. The Congregation, formerly known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition and was referred to la suprema, the “supreme” department within the Vatican, since it was the arbiter on doctrinal issues.

Cardinal Müller was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, but he had raised concerns over the differing interpretations of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. The Tablet explains: “Bishops have been in open disagreement over whether the text opens the way for communion to be given to divorced and remarried Catholics, with Müller stressing the need for a unified approach. The cardinal also disagreed with the strategy of the four “dubia” cardinals who have publicly challenged Francis on Amoris Laetitia with one, Cardinal Raymond Burke, threatening to issue the Pope with a formal correction”.

Islamic finance 

Sweet & Maxwell announced the publication of Scott Morrison’s Law of Sukuk: Shari’a Compliant Securities, which the publisher describes as “guidance for legal and finance professionals on the sale, purchase, origination and issuance of sukuk, including standard form documents and financial services contracts”. It is a growing area and one in which very few non-specialist practitioners have any experience.

Quick links

  • Second Reading: the House of Commons Library blog:  The Barnett formula: a quick guide: “Some thought that the Barnett formula would see Scotland and Wales benefit indirectly from the [Conservative/DUP] agreement’s promise of financial support to Northern Ireland. The Government has stated clearly that the Barnett formula does not apply in this case”: this post explains why.
  • Neil Foster, Law and Religion AustraliaBirth certificate alteration for a married person?: on the recent decision of the UN Human Rights Committee that Australia is in breach of its human rights obligations by not providing for a person who has transitioned from male to female, to have her birth certificate amended.
  • Carina Trimmingham, UKHRBNew Belfast Court Ruling on Abortion – A Step Backwards?
  • NatCen Social Research: British Social Attitudes 34: the chapter on moral attitudes suggests that people with religious views, older people and those without formal educational qualifications are more likely to be socially conservative than the non-religious, younger people and the better-educated.
  • Eccles and Bosco blog: I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition
  • Letters to the Church Magazine: July 2017

And finally…

In response to the news that the Church of England is to trial contactless collection plates, at 1:53 PM on 26 Jun 2017 Frank tweeted “Waiting for @Gerrarrdus to write a Liturgy for Blessing a Contactless Payment Device”. Fr Gary Alderson responded “Oh, OK then” and by 2:18 pm had posted the following Collect for a Church Contactless Collection Device:

“O Thou who pourest blessings from above
and knowest both our incomings and our outgoings,
and blesseth both chip and pin,
Bless this contactless PED, thy creature of silicon and plastic,
that it may take the right amounts from thy servants
in a secure, PCI-compliant and seamless manner,
and open up the hearts of thy servants
and bless their givings
that they may be cheerful givers
and yet never go overdrawn
lest they suffer the dread retribution of thy servants the banks and fall into debt eternal.
Amen”.

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