Law and religion round-up – 16th July

A quiet week, apart from…

… not the Great Repeal Bill

On Thursday, the Government published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. We noted it here and the Parliament page on the Bill is here.

In Public Law for Everyone, Professor Mark Elliott’s post looks in some detail (albeit preliminarily) at how the EU (Withdrawal) Bill works, and comments on some of the key constitutional issues that it raises, here. As a taster (for both Brexiteers and Remainers), he concludes: Continue reading

The House of Lords and “religious literacy”

In a brief exchange in the House of Lords this morning, Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB) asked Her Majesty’s Government “what steps they are taking to combat religious extremism and to promote a cohesive society by enhancing religious literacy at all levels of government”.

The Minister of State at the Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con) replied: “My Lords, the Government are challenging all forms of extremism through our counter-extremism and Prevent programmes. We are working closely with faith groups to understand the impact of policies and to improve religious literacy in government. The Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary hosted a round table for representatives of all faiths last November”. Continue reading

Scottish Government to re-examine obligatory collective worship in schools

As we have previously noted, children in Scotland (and in Northern Ireland) do not have the right to withdraw themselves from collective school worship without parental permission even if they are aged sixteen or over. Originally dating from 1872, the current law on religious observance in Scottish schools is set out in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, as amended, and the latest guidance from the Scottish Government was issued in 2011 – though since 2005, Scottish schools have been required to make parents aware that they can remove their children from religious education and observance.

After that situation was roundly criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Humanist Society Scotland launched a judicial review of the Scottish Government’s refusal to allow sixth-form students to opt out of religious observance. Continue reading

Joint Committee on Human Rights reports on counter-extremism policies

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published its Second Report of the Session, on Counter-Extremism. There is much in the Report that is of interest to faith-communities, not least because the Joint Committee is critical of the Government’s proposal that education in “out-of-school settings” when instruction takes place for six hours a week or more should be subject to inspection by Ofsted. As we first noted in January (and we have returned to the issue subsequently) the proposal has raised concerns about possible inspection of such activities as intensive choir-practices and Nativity play rehearsals.

The Joint Committee does not support a regime of routine inspections of out-of-school education. Moreover, it is fairly critical of current policies generally, pointing out that “The Government gave us no impression of having a coherent or sufficiently precise definition of either ‘non-violent extremism’ or ‘British values’.”

Following are the Joint Committee’s recommendations:

Continue reading

Law and religion round-up – 10th April

A week in which the Pope published his long-awaited Apostolic Exhortation on the family, the Church in Wales took its first tentative steps to accommodate its gay and lesbian members – but there were other things going on…

Abortion in Nothern Ireland

The Irish Times reports that on Monday a woman was given a three-month sentence of imprisonment suspended for two years after she pleaded guilty to charges of procuring her own abortion by using a poison and of supplying a poison with intent to procure a miscarriage. The woman, whose identity was protected by a court order, had bought the drugs on-line after contacting an abortion clinic in England for advice. Belfast Crown Court heard that she had told her housemates that she had wanted to travel to England for a termination but could not raise the money to do so.

According to the report, the Recorder of Belfast, HHJ McFarland, said that there were no guidelines or similar cases and that, in his experience, there had been no other prosecution under s 58 Offences Against the Person Act 1861 – which prescribes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Acknowledging that as a UK citizen the defendant could legally have travelled to England for a termination, he said that the advice given by the clinic that she contacted “without knowledge of her background and details was perhaps inappropriate”.

The BBC website has a very helpful account of why the laws on abortion are different in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Religion in the workplace – again Continue reading

‘Living with Difference’: Time for a constructive Christian engagement

We have already posted our own summary of the CORAB report and a critique of the report by Bob Morris. In this guest post, Jonathan Chaplin, Director of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, continues the discussion.

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The British Christian community is in danger of squandering an important and timely opportunity to contribute to the debate about the role of faith in the public square, a debate marred by much confusion, misunderstanding and ill-temper.[1]

The report

On 7 December, the Cambridge-based Woolf Institute’s Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life (CORAB) published Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good, following a two-year national consultation in which hundreds of contributions were received from individuals and organisations.[2] The report proposes a ‘new settlement’ on the place of religion in public life in view of the current rapid shifts in religious allegiance and identity in British society, including the decline in membership of mainline Christian denominations and the significant growth of those who adhere to no religion and to new minority religions.[3] It argues that this growing de facto plurality of religion and belief ought to be better accommodated in the de iure institutional and constitutional status of religion and belief and reflected in public policy.[4] Continue reading

Living with Difference: The Butler-Sloss Commission’s report reflects its members’ interests rather than the public interest

The Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life published its report, Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good, on 7 December. In this goes post, Bob Morris argues that the recommendations reflect the nature of the Commission’s membership rather than an open-minded commitment to the interests of public life and policy.

The issue

Britain is experiencing considerable change in its religious landscape. Two quite different phenomena are taking place simultaneously: on the one hand, about half the population is prepared to say that it belongs to no religion, and on the other hand recent decades have seen the growth of the number of non-Christian religions present in what was formerly an almost wholly Christian country. In other words, Britain is experiencing both secularisation and pluralisation at the same time. As a result the question arises of how the country should adjust to the new situation. In such discussions, religious bodies have displayed anxieties particularly about the place of religion in a more secularised ‘public sphere’.

What follows explains the nature of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life set up by the Woolf Institute to look at the issues, summarises its main recommendations, records some initial public reactions, and tries to assess – primarily from a constitutional point of view – what it might all be taken to mean. Continue reading