Law and religion round-up – 20th August

Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, representing Islam, charities & politics,  burqas in Oz – and religious sensibilities on eBay…

….preceded yesterday’s weekend supplement of recent queries and comments

Following our initial collection of queries and comments in last week’s round-up, we compiled further “Quick Answers”  which provide links within the blog to questions which have arisen from searches of, or comments during the past few days or so. This week these included: the common-law right to burial for suicides and the unbaptized; confession in the CofE; Methodist supernumeraries; the UK government review of sharia; s77 building act 1984; the EU-wide definition of ‘marriage’ and ‘family’, and much, much more. The content of these occasional “Saturday Supplements” does not necessarily represent our most-read blogs, but reflects current interests of readers accessing the site on (mostly) contemporary issues.

Setback for campaigners for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

On Thursday, judgment was handed down in the High Court in Belfast on two cases challenging Northern Ireland’s ban on same-sex marriage. A joint claim had been brought by two couples in civil partnerships and a further claim had been brought by a couple who married in England and who want their marriage legally recognised in Northern Ireland. 

O’Hara J dismissed both applications. There is a summary of the judgment here and we hope to post a considered note once a full transcript is available.

A national council for Islam?

The Times (£) reports that

“Britain’s most senior Muslim clerics are planning to set up their first national council to issue religious rulings that promote a progressive interpretation of Islam.”

The report quotes Qari Asim MBE, chief imam of the Makkah Mosque, on the lack of an authoritative public voice to speak out on issues such as terrorism and Islamophobia. He said that imams from groups such as the British Muslim Forum and Imams Online were discussing setting up a theological group of senior imams to deal with “interpretational issues”. Imams from different traditions would be nominated to this board by their mosques. The Guardian quotes Mr Asim as follows:

“This is about providing clarity on some of the sociopolitical issues, whether it be forced marriages, FGM, honour killing … These practices are not sanctioned by the faith Islam but they are cultural practices that have penetrated the Muslim community of particular backgrounds.

The attempt is to embed Islam in a 21st-century British context. It’s about contextualising Islam in Britain.”

Political activity by charities

Religion Clause reports that a letter, signed by more than 4,000 faith leaders from all fifty states, was sent to members of the US Congress urging them to keep the Johnson Amendment in the Internal Revenue Code: it prohibits nonprofits, including places of worship, from supporting or opposing candidates in political elections. The letter says in part:

“Faith leaders are called to speak truth to power, and we cannot do so if we are merely cogs in partisan political machines. The prophetic role of faith communities necessitates that we retain our independent voice … Changing the law to repeal or weaken the “Johnson Amendment” … would harm houses of worship, which are not identified or divided by partisan lines. Particularly in today’s political climate, engaging in partisan politics and issuing endorsements would be highly divisive and have a detrimental impact on congregational unity and civil discourse.”

Strangely, this is almost – but not quite – the mirror-image of the argument in England and Wales. Under the terms of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, there are severe restrictions on campaigning by charities at election time. Moreover, party-political campaigning is forbidden altogether: see, for example, the Charity Commission’s Campaigning and political activity guidance for charities.

Charities in the UK seem to chafe under the current restrictions: see, for example, John Picton, Why charities should be allowed to campaign freely at election time and Vicky Browning, Charities must campaign in this election – society needs bold reform. It’s a finely-balanced argument: but surely no-one wants to see charities conducting party-political campaigns.

42 drips vote against upholstered chairs

As a segue to our post The last word on the “pews vs chairs” debate… David’s parish was recently granted a faculty for the reordering of one of its churches, Holy Trinity, Charlton. This includes the “replacement of existing heavy oak benches with wooden chairs”, although there is to be the “retention of a small number of existing oak benches”. In its assessment of the replacement chairs, the churchwardens produced a detailed report on a trial of a total of seven chairs from two different manufacturers. However, what swung it against upholstered chairs was not the CBC Guidance nor the Victorian Society, but an inspection of the pews/benches after a single Candlemas service. This revealed 42 spillages of candle wax – easily removable from wooden furniture but not from an upholstered surface. Added to the proposed more flexible use of the space in the reordered “Trinity Church Centre” by a wider range of groups, the decision was a “no-brainer”.

Despite the Ritualist links to its first priest, the Revd Alexander Heriot Mackonochie (a.k.a. ”the Martyr of St Albans”), Holy Trinity now describes itself on A Church near you as the “Low church alternative to SS Peter and Paul in Wantage town centre”. Across the town, the bench used by Sir John Betjeman, one of the founders of the Victorian Society, remains intact.

Burqas in the Australian Senate

Reuters reports that the leader of the far-right One Nation Party, Senator Pauline Hanson, wore a burqa in the Senate in Canberra on Thursday as part of her campaign to ban them. She sat in her seat for about 20 minutes before removing her burqa and calling for them to be banned in public for national security reasons. Her action drew a quick rebuke both from Muslims and from the Government. Said Attorney-General George Brandis:

“I am not going to pretend to ignore the stunt that you have tried to pull today by arriving in the chamber dressed in a burqa. We all know that you are not an adherent of the Islamic faith. I would caution and counsel you, with respect, to be very, very careful of the offence you may do to the religious sensibilities of other Australians.”

Recently published

178 Law & Justice, Easter 2017

  • Frank Cranmer [sorry about that]: ‘How the Reformation shaped secular and ecclesiastical law in Great Britain’.
  • Barry Forde: ‘Church of Ireland clergy and employment law’.
  • Robert Meakin: ‘Taking the Queen’s shilling: the implications for religious freedom for religions being registered as charities’.
  • John Witte Jr: ‘Luther the lawyer: the Lutheran reformation of law, politics and society’.

6(2) Oxford Journal of Law and Religion

  • John Adenitire: ‘Conscientious Exemptions: From Toleration to Neutrality; From Neutrality to Respect’.
  • Netta Barak-Corren: Beyond Dissent and Compliance: Religious Decision Makers and Secular Law’.
  • Rawaa El Ayoubi Gebara: ‘Islamic Law and Modernity’.

The Reformation Revisited: Catholic and Protestant Approaches to Law

A reminder of the conference, jointly organised by Law & Justice and the Centre for Law & Religion at Cardiff, on Thursday 14 September at Heythrop College, 23 Kensington Square, London W8 5HN [nearest underground station, High Street Kensington]. The cost is £30, to include lunch, and the booking form is here.

The programme is as follows:

  • 10.00 Introduction and welcome: John Duddington, Editor of Law and Justice
  • 10.05 Keynote Lecture: Richard Helmholz, Ruth Wyatt Rosenson Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago: Protestant and Catholic Approaches to Legal Problems
  • 11.00 Coffee
  • 11.30 Panel Presentations: Conscience; Natural Law
  • 1.00 Lunch
  • 2.00 Panel Presentations: Church and State
  • 3.15 Tea
  • 3.45 Lecture: David McIlroy, Visiting Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies: Protestant and Catholic Approaches to Human Rights
  • 4.30 Plenary Q&A Session
  • 5.00 Close.

The members of the Panel will be: Professor Norman Doe, Director of the Centre for Law and Religion, Cardiff University, the Revd Paul Goodliff, former Head of Ministry at the Baptist Union, the Revd Canon Gareth Powell, Secretary of the Methodist Conference, the Very Revd Dr John Chalmers, Principal Clerk Emeritus, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and Sr Helen Costigane SHCJ, Vice-Principal (Academic) at Heythrop College.

And finally… I

The President of the United States responded to the Barcelona terror attack with a suggestion that Islamist terrorists should be executed with bullets soaked in pig’s blood – referring back to an event that took place, allegedly, in the early 1900s but which most scholars believe never actually happened. The BBC carries the full story: read it and weep.

And finally… II

The Codex Iuris Canonici 1983 evidently refreshes the parts other canonical systems can’t reach: eBay refuses to take an advert for an object for sale…

Wonder how that would play against the Equality Act 2010?

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