Law and religion round-up – 7th January

Marriage and parochial fees, Gift Aid, Scientologists, hijabs, Brexit – and priority for Buddhist monks…

Marriage certificates

The Sunday Times reported (£) on New Year’s Eve that the Home Office is likely to approve the inclusion of mothers’ names on marriage certificates. According to the report, “A Home Office source told The Sunday Times the proposal had been ‘signed off’, and a spokeswoman confirmed that it wanted to include mothers’ details. These will also appear on civil partnership certificates.”

The issue is currently the subject of two identical private Member’s bills tabled by Dame Caroline Spelman in the Commons and by the Bishop of St Albans in the Lords. The Lords bill is to have its second reading debate on 26 January.

“Get me to the church on time”

And while we’re on the subject of marriage, the Daily Telegraph reported that Canon John Corbyn, vicar of Holy Cross, Bearsted, and St Mary’s, Thurnham, had imposed a “£100 fine” on those who cannot stick to their allotted time slot and arrive late to their service.  He was quoted as saying “I’m not calling it a fine, but if you want to hire the venue for one hour or two hours, you pay different amounts; the money goes to the 20 or so volunteers who give up their time to assist at a wedding, including the verger, organist, choir and bellringers”. However, it subsequently appears that he may have been slightly misrepresented: in an interview, he told the BBC yesterday that what he does is to offer a £100 “cashback” for punctuality – which is not quite the same thing at all, although this does raise other issues.

As we noted in our post, any change to the fees is only permissible with relation to “extras”; whether an additional hire charge could in any case be justified as a permissible “extra” is debatable. It is David’s view that it would be more logical to include any additional payment as part of the organist’s fee as they are the ones who bear the brunt of delays caused by inconsiderate brides. Such a scheme would be difficult to apply for other occasional offices, although we note that Elizabeth Taylor made a point of insisting that she was 15 minutes late for her own funeral.

Gift Aid claims from April

For the umpteenth time, HMRC has explained how the Gift Aid rules will apply once the new rates of income tax come into effect in Scotland in April 2018.

The Scottish income tax bands will be as follows:

Bands Band name Rates (%)
Over £11,850*-£13,850 Starter Rate 19
Over £13,850-£24,000 Basic Rate 20
Over £24,000-£44,273 Intermediate Rate 21
Over £44,273-£150,000 Higher Rate 41
Above £150,000 Top Rate 46

HMRC has said that if a donor domiciled in Scotland has signed a Gift Aid declaration to the effect that he or she has paid enough tax, charities will receive Gift Aid at the normal UK rate of 25 pence per £1 donated.

In short, charities should continue to claim relief at UK basic rate of 20 per cent whether the donor was a Scottish taxpayer or not. Simple.

Hijabs at work again

Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) has ruled that the SAS uniform policy banning the wearing of hijabs by new employees who deal with passengers “does not breach anti-discrimination laws, based on it only applying for employees who are in direct customer contact.” According to The Local, the judgment explains that SAS first informs potential employees about the policy only when they are offered a job, in order to ensure that the application process is based solely on the criteria of qualifications and competence. To which the aggrieved applicant, Ms Aye Alhassani, replied that she thought it would have been better if the company had told her about the policy at the start of the interview process: “I could’ve then looked for other jobs and not prioritized the SAS job over others and let them go,”

The DO referred to the CJEU’s March 2017 ruling in Achbita and Bougnaoui [noted here] that companies can ask customer-facing employees not to express their religious beliefs through religious symbols such as clothing, always provided that the purpose of the policy is to show political, philosophical or religious neutrality to customers and it is applied in manner that is neutral, consistent and proportionate. [With thanks to Paul De Mello Jnr]

Scientology in Ireland

The Times (£) reported on Christmas Day that concern has been expressed about the growth of the Church of Scientology in Ireland. The Scientologists have bought a former church in Firhouse, Co Dublin, with a 1,300-seat auditorium and converted it into a centre for their Irish operations. In October 2016 they opened a “national affairs office” in Merrion Square. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has expressed his own concerns but says that he is not willing to restrict the Scientologists’ operations – even if it were possible to do so under EU law and the terms of Article 9 ECHR, which is doubtful:

“I know there is a genuine concern about the fact or the possibility that it could be a cult. At the same time, I think we always have to balance freedom of religion or freedom of association on the one hand with protecting people from being exploited, and that is always a challenge. I don’t know enough about the Church of Scientology to know whether or to what extent the allegations made against them would require government intervention of some sort. I would be loath to go down that route of starting to interfere with religious groups or restrict people’s freedom of association in any way.”

[With thanks to Donlu D Thayer at BYU.]

Yet more on Brexit

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has written to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee in response to a request for clarification of the Government’s position on UK membership of the Customs Union after Brexit, as follows:

Exiting the European Union: decision-making
The establishment of the EU Customs Union is set out in Article 28 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. As the UK will no longer be a Member State, or under the treaties once it leaves the EU, it will not be part of the EU’s Customs Union. The UK will therefore need to seek a new customs arrangement with the EU that facilitates the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods between the UK and the EU, and allows us to forge new trade relationships with our partners in Europe and around the world. In assessing the options for the UK’s future outside the EU Customs Union, the government will be guided by what delivers the greatest economic advantage to the UK, and by three strategic objectives: ensuring UK-EU trade is as frictionless as possible; avoiding a ‘hard border’ between Ireland and Northern Ireland; and establishing an independent international trade policy.

As outlined in the European Council’s guidelines published last week, the EU has agreed to negotiate a transition period covering the whole of the EU acquis in the next phase of negotiations. This will include how the UK will participate in the Customs Union during that period.”

Nothing specifically to do with either law or religion – but we thought you might like to know.

Websites (continued)

For those still troubled by the amount of scrolling necessary to navigate the revised CofE website, things are probably worse oltre Tevere. On his Facebook page, canon lawyer Dr Ed Peters announced his New Year’s resolutions for the webmaster at Vatican.va:

“I will present the Acta Apostolicae Sedis in reverse chronological order so that people interested in recent developments need not constantly scroll through decades worth of links to matters of minor importance, AND, I will condense the last 15 years worth of AAS links into individual years, instead of posting them by month, so that researchers need no longer guess as to which fascicle might have the actual page one is searching for. I further promise to do this in the first 20 minutes or so it would require to fix these two chronic annoyances.”

Quick links

And finally… I

And finally… II

International Business Times reports that on 31 January a celestial event which only occurs once every 150 years will be viewable from Earth: a simultaneous supermoon and blue moon combined with a full lunar eclipse. Start writing your End Times/Armageddon pieces now.

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