Law and religion round-up – 10th September

End of “silly season” brings news from around the UK, and a new motu proprio 

Hijabs in primary schools

There were various reports (eg in The Sunday Times and the Evening Standard) that “Children as young as three are being allowed to wear the hijab in British nurseries and primary schools.” The ST reported that its survey found that a fifth of 800 primary schools, including Church of England schools, list the hijab as part of their uniform. “Campaigners” objected, on the grounds that wearing the hijab puts pressure on Muslim girls to conform and that the practice sexualises the girls because it is traditionally not worn until puberty. The Department for Education said that uniform policies were for schools to decide, adding: “If a school decided to allow a pupil to wear a burqa, that would be up to the school.”

This is not exactly “news”: to our certain knowledge, some primary schools have had rules about what colour of hijab a girl may wear to school for at least the past five years. Perhaps the most sensible comment was from Toby Howarth, Bishop of Bradford and an interfaith relations specialist, who told the ES that “The British policy is not to make too big a deal of it, but simply to say you have to wear the right colour. This is a matter of religious identity, not sexualisation” and suggested that girls often just wanted “to look like their Mums”.

Age of criminal responsibility

Not “religion” but a serious socio-legal issue: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday that the latest Programme for Government will include a Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill, which

“will increase the age from which a child can be held criminally responsible from 8 to 12 years old; aligning it with the current minimum age of prosecution and reflecting Scotland’s commitment to international human rights standards. It will ensure harmful behaviours can still be investigated and responded to, contain appropriate safeguards for the gravest cases, and retain victims’ rights to information and support.”

It is at least arguable that twelve is too low an age at which to set criminal responsibility: but eight???

And see our follow-up post, here.

Humanist weddings in Northern Ireland

Laura Smyth alias Lacole and Eunan O’Kane wanted a humanist wedding, for which there is currently no provision in Northern Ireland. In Re an application by Laura Smyth for Judicial Review, which we noted here, Colton J quashed the General Register Office’s decision to refuse an application to allow them a humanist ceremony on the grounds that it breached their Convention rights. The Court of Appeal then granted interim authority for the wedding to go ahead and be given legal recognition and the Lord Chief Justice directed the local registration authority to appoint – without prejudice – British Humanist Association celebrant Isobel Russo to solemnise the marriage.

However, the Court of Appeal has yet to rule on the appeal against Colton J’s judgment by the Attorney General and Stormont’s Finance Department. The hearing resumes tomorrow: watch this space.

Church and State in Ireland

The Irish Examiner carried a very brief report of a statement by Katherine Zappone TD, the Children’s Minister, in the wake of a two-hour meeting between leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Taoiseach and a number of ministers. The Church leaders called on the Government to reconsider plans for a referendum on the 8th Amendment to the Constitution, which in 1983 introduced a constitutional ban on abortion. Ms Zappone is quoted as saying:

“To fully separate the Church from the State, that there is no religious tradition, Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, Muslim, that influences the laws of the State is something, again, that will take time, especially for Ireland, in order to achieve. Every step that brings us closer to that is a step in the right direction.”

Archbishop of Wales

The new Archbishop of Wales is to be the Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies. A law graduate and a solicitor by training, he is also a graduate of the Cardiff LLM course in canon law.

Motu proprio “Magnum Principium

On Saturday, Pope Francis issued the Apostolic Letter Motu ProprioMagnum Principium”. Subtitled “Quibus nonnulla in can. 838 Codicis Iuris Canonici immutantur”, (“By which Can. 838 of the Code of Canon Law is Modified”), it is described by the Catholic Herald as “granting bishops’ conferences greater control over the translation of liturgical texts”. The jury is still out on its implications: Ed Condon‏ @canonlawyered tweeted “Any thoughtful, reasoned, canonical response to Magnum Principio won’t fit in a tweet. Everyone just take a breath and go to Mass”; Dr Ed Peters gave some preliminary thoughts on his Facebook page; and it was left toe Eccles to provide a fuller analysis. Roman Catholic Canon Law is a little out of our area, but we will post links to commentaries in next week’s round-up.

Ecclesiastical Law Journal 2017 (3)

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