Law and religion round-up – 1st April

Easter Sunday again, and time for the ritual moan about the labelling of chocolate eggs – and the week in which we passed 2,000 posts…

Jehovah’s Witnesses and alleged child abuse

In two stories in The Guardian, Sarah Marsh notes that more than a hundred people have contacted the paper with allegations of child sexual abuse and other mistreatment in Jehovah’s Witness communities across the UK and reports increasing concern among Members of Parliament in both major parties about the issue. Labour MP Sarah Champion told her that “Whenever there is a closed society with an inherent power imbalance, the potential for abuse is there”, while Alex Chalk, Conservative MP for Cheltenham, added that “If even half the allegations coming to light are true, then it’s clear that an entrenched culture of cover-up and flawed in-house investigations continues to this day”.Her second report concludes with a statement by the JWs that child safeguarding is “of the utmost importance” and that “a victim and their family had the right to report allegations of child abuse to the police”.

To which the obvious response is that we already knew that: obviously, any person in the UK has the right to report a crime to the police. The problem is that small children do not, by and large, go along to the local cop-shop to complain that they have been abused: if they tell anyone, it’ll probably be their parents – assuming that their parents are not the abusers – or possibly their teachers. The critical issue is this: what is the institution itself doing about allegations of abuse within its ranks?

Should judges steer clear of theology?

In last week’s round-up we noted Haddon-Cave J’s Sentencing Remarks in R v Hassan, in which he said this:

“You will have plenty of time to study the Qur’an in prison in the years to come. You should understand that the Qur’an is a book of peace; Islam is a religion of peace. The Qur’an and Islam forbid anything extreme, including extremism in religion. Islam forbids breaking the ‘law of the land’ where one is living or is a guest. Islam forbids terrorism (hiraba). The Qur’an and the Sunna provide that the crime of perpetrating terror to ‘cause corruption in the land’ is one of the most severe crimes in Islam. So it is in the law of the United Kingdom. You have, therefore, received the most severe of sentences under the law of this land. You have violated the Qur’an and Islam by your actions, as well as the law of all civilized people. It is to be hoped that you will come to realise this one day.”

The Chief Executive of the National Secular Society, Stephen Evans, has since written to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, suggesting that the remarks had “undermined the principle of judicial impartiality and the universal applicability of secular law”:

“We have no doubt that Justice Haddon-Cave’s remarks were well-intentioned. We do however consider them to be profoundly unwise. We therefore urge you to ensure judicial office holders refrain from theological interpretation and limit themselves to interpreting the law of the land.”

Church security

Whilst “zorbing balls, a flat-packed shed and an umbrella are some of the most unusual things stolen from UK churches” according to specialist insurer Ecclesiastical, church roofing materials remain particularly at risk, even when precautions have been taken to prevent theft. In February this year, thieves vandalised the roof of the north aisle of St Michael and All Angels, Wadenhoe, aiming to steal lead. The roof had previously been covered in lead, but in 2010/11 the roofs of the church were mainly covered in terne-coated stainless steel sheeting, at a cost of £87,000. The stainless steel had “weathered to the colour of lead” and, following the theft, signage has been placed around the church to indicate the nature of the roofing material. The church is now seeking £15k through crowdfunding for the repairs.

Ireland and abortion

On Wednesday, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government announced that he had made an order appointing Friday 25 May 2018 as the polling day for the referendum on the proposal for amendment of the Constitution contained in the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018. The amendment will allow the Oireachtas to enact laws permitting abortion: currently, Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution guarantees the “right to life of the unborn” (with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother).

Summer jobs and (possible) discrimination in Canada

Canada operates a federally-funded Summer Jobs Programme as part of its the Youth Employment Strategy. Under it, financial assistance may be provided to employers to hire registered full-time students between the ages of 15 and 30 to help them in acquiring employment and/or career-related skills. The application form for employers requires the applicant organisation to attest that “both the job and [the] organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada” including “reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

Which seems entirely reasonable; however, critics have noted that requiring individuals to adopt certain beliefs in order to receive benefits amounts to compelled speech and is a breach of their rights to freedom of conscience, religion, expression, and equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a vote in the House of Commons on 20 March on a motion opposing the attestation statement, David Christopherson, a pro-choice MP, broke with his party – the New Democrats – and voted with the Conservatives. He refused to support the attestation requirement on the grounds to do so “took away Canadians’ right to disagree with the laws that they have to obey.”

The motion was defeated 207 to 93, with nearly every Liberal and New Democrat voting against. Canada’s Labour Minister has said that she is willing to consider modifying the language of the application in 2019.

Inaugural WATCH Annual Lecture

Women and the Church (WATCH) has announced that the inaugural annual lecture is to be given by the Revd Dr Helen Hall, who is no stranger to this blog. Entitled “Religious Freedom in UK Education – Conversations about being Human”, the lecture will consider “How much scope should parents and schools have in deciding the content and presentation of information to children? Debates about RE and assemblies, what about science, Creationism, ethics, sex education, literature, history affect all learners, but potentially have a particular impact on girls and women. Do we need to re-think the current balance of conflicting interests?”

Helen’s lecture will be given in Chester Cathedral on 17 May 2018 at 7.30pm. A fitting venue, since the Cathedral contains the oldest complete ecclesiastical courtroom in Great Britain; the last case heard at Chester was in the 1930s and concerned a priest who had attempted suicide.

Quick links

And finally…I 

On Wednesday, Vatican Insider carried the headline The fake news on the Pope (emeritus)’ death, where an online newspaper, in mistakenly rushing to be the first to reveal the news, announced that Pope Emeritus Ratzinger had passed away. It notes, however, that this is just the tip of an iceberg of false alarms in which Pope John Paul II holds the record, with two such false alarms. However, that of Pius XII was the most spectacular and resulted in four major newspapers each publishing a special edition. VI explains:

“the pontifical doctor had agreed to give to some Vaticanists [a signal] by moving the curtain of a certain window of the Castel Gandolfo palace when the end of Pope Pacelli had arrived. It happens that a nun, obviously unaware of everything, moved that curtain, thus activating the signal…”

However, Pius XII died the following night.

And finally…II

A correction from the Wall Street Journal:

“An earlier version of this article stated that Benjamin Netanyahu said Moses brought water from Iraq. It should have said the water was brought from a rock (28 March).”

And a happy Easter to all our readers.

2 thoughts on “Law and religion round-up – 1st April

  1. Though I often disagree with the National Secular Society they are spot on in criticising the Judge’s sentencing remarks.

    Leaving aside the fact that several people will disagree with his interpretation of Islamic theology and teaching, the blunt fact is that since the Judge is not a Muslim whatever he said about the meaning of the Qur’an will be ignored by the defendant as meaningless since they come from a non-Muslim.

    As the NSS says, the Judge’s remarks were well-meaning but, bluntly, he shouldn’t have said them.

Leave a Reply