Religion and Law round-up – 22nd February

Your weekly mash-up of all the law & religion news that’s fit to print – and some that’s not…

The House of Bishops and the General Election

This week saw the publication of what proved to be an unexpectedly-controversial pastoral letter from the Church of England’s House of Bishops – which we duly noted. The letter poses the question “how can we build the kind of society which many people say they want but which is not yet being expressed in the vision of any of the parties?” and expresses the hope that political parties will discern “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be” ahead of the General Election.

The tone of the letter struck us as even-handed and scrupulously non-partisan; nevertheless, it created a media storm. The Telegraph quoted Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, (late of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! – which, sad to say, someone did), to the effect that the Church is “always silent when people are seeking its voice” but “very keen to dive in” when no-one is asking for its opinion. She questioned why the bishops had not spoken out during the “spending frenzy” of the Labour Government: to which the rejoinder came that no less a figure than Archbishop Rowan himself had done precisely that in a Radio 4 interview in 2008 – reported in the Guardian under the headline Brown’s spending plans like ‘addict returning to the drug’, says archbishop. Continue reading

Religion and Law round-up – 1st February

Women as bishops, a Christian law school, kirpans in detention centres, conscientious objection, pagan weddings – and hazelnut & chocolate spread…

Rt Revd Libby Lane

On Tuesday at York Minster Libby Lane was consecrated to the suffragan see of Stockport and became the first female bishop in the Church of England. Although we have tended to use the term “women in the episcopate” rather than “women bishops”, the latter was a convenient shorthand for tagging posts: now they’re just “bishops”. End of a long and tortuous story; though in view of some of the remaining hostilities expressed this week, perhaps the CofE should run a “Get over it” poster campaign on London buses?

Religious dress in prisons and detention centres

We noted that the Home Office had amended the Detention Services Order dealing with search procedures at detention centres in order to allow Sikh legal advisers to retain their kirpans provided they are properly secured. Continue reading

Religion and Law round-up – 18th January

Reflections on a week in which the Lords debated assisted dying and chancel repairs, the C of E published a “programme for reform and renewal”, SCOTUS decided to hear argument on same-sex marriage – and a court took pity on a cleric faced with disqualification from driving…

Reform and renewal in the C of E

On 12 January, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote to members of the Church of England’s General Synod proposing a “programme for reform and renewal” for the church, outlined in their statement “In Each Generation”: A programme for reform and renewal. This preceded the publication of a series of documents proposing reforms to be published on the Church’s website this week ahead of the meeting of the General Synod, 10 to 12 February.

Due to the range and volume of material being issued in relation to the various Task Group reports, there was a daily release of key documents this week ahead of the general distribution of papers on Friday 16 January. These have included: Continue reading

Religion and Law round-up – 4th January

So that’s the carols and mince pies over for another year, then. Back to work…

… but not before tonight’s Epiphany Carol services, when some choirs will take the opportunity to dust off the Crotch – Lo, Star-Led Chiefs, Assyrian Odours Bring – a sort of Pirates of Penzance meets Messiah. For some, the Christmas season extends until Candlemas; but now that The Low Churchman’s Guide to the Solemn High Mass has ceased its regular postings we will no longer be reminded of the evils of “prolix ritual and ostentatious ceremonial”.

Abortion, blasphemy and the Constitution of Ireland

The common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in England and Wales by s 79 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. In Ireland, however, Article 40.6.1°.i of the Constitution [Bunreacht na hÉireann] declares that

“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law”.

In 1999 the common law offence of blasphemous libel was ruled to be incompatible with the Constitution’s guarantee of religious equality; but after a hiatus a new offence of “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter” was created by the Defamation Act 2009. The argument advanced by the Fianna Fáil Government was that it was necessary to have such an offence in order to fulfil the terms of Article 40.6.1°.i. To describe this as controversial would be a major understatement; and after the last general election, the incoming Fine Gael–Labour Coalition’s programme promised a Constitutional Convention to draft a range of reforms, including “Removing blasphemy from the Constitution”. Continue reading

Law & Religion 2014 and 2015: retrospect and prospect – Part II

To resume where we left off yesterday…

Abortion and conscientious objection

In December the Supreme Court ruled on Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board’s appeal against the judgment of the Inner House in Doogan & Anor v NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board [2013] ScotCS CSIH 36. The Inner House had overturned the decision of the Lord Ordinary [Lady Smith], who had refused the petition of Mary Doogan and Connie Wood,Greater Glasgow HB labour-ward coordinators at the Glasgow Southern General Hospital, for judicial review of the dismissal of their conscientious objection to supervising staff involved in abortions. In the Inner House, Lady Dorrian had justified a wide interpretation of the conscientious opt-out in section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967 because

“it is recognised that the process of abortion is felt by many people to be morally repugnant … [I]t is a matter on which many people have strong moral and religious convictions, and the right of conscientious objection is given out of respect for those convictions and not for any other reason” [para 38].

The Supreme Court took precisely the opposite view. Continue reading

Religion and Law round-up – 21st December

“Participating” in abortion, marking time on humanist weddings, first same-sex marriage under Scots law – and a hitch in EU accession to the ECHR..

Abortion and conscientious objection

The big news of the week was that Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board won its appeal in the controversy over whether or not Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, labour ward coordinators at the Southern General Hospital and practising Roman Catholics, could claim conscientious objection under s 4 Abortion Act 1967 to having to supervise staff participating in abortions. Maria Strauss, an Associate at Farrer & Co, wrote a joint post on the case with Frank.

Humanist weddings in England and Wales?

The Sunday Times reported (£) that Number 10 was blocking proposals to provide for humanist marriages although the Lib Dems remained in favour. Understandably, the British Humanist Association was very disappointed indeed, not least because experience in Scotland (where celebrants are licensed rather than buildings) suggests that there is quite a strong demand for humanist wedding ceremonies.

On Thursday the Government published its response to the consultation: Marriages by non-religious belief organisations. In short, though ministers don’t seem to be against humanist marriages in principle, they reckon that the law in England and Wales on licensing buildings for the solemnisation of marriages is so complex that “it is necessary to carefully consider the legal and technical requirements concerning marriage ceremonies and registration and the range of relevant equality issues”. So they have asked the Law Commission to conduct “a broader review of the law concerning marriage ceremonies”. In short: nothing this side of the General Election. Continue reading

Scottish Bishops on Marriage and Civil Partnership

Few outwith Scotland have commented on the guidance issued by the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church in relation to the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014: the provisions that come into force 16 December 2014 will permit same-sex marriage ceremonies to take place after 31 December 2014, i.e. after the current 14-day period of notice[1]. The Act also allows for the possibility of civil partnerships being registered in the context of a religious ceremony.  There has been strong condemnation in some quarters of approach taken by the Bishops’ document and Continue reading