Religion and law round-up – 12th October

A very mixed bag: the US Supreme Court on same-sex marriage and prisoners’ beards (but not at the same time), abortion in NI, statistics on sexuality in the UK, the future of the C of E parish system, performing right…

Same-sex marriage and the US Supreme Court

We normally keep well away from US law because there are lots of US law & religion experts out there (which we are emphatically not) and even more US law & religion cases; but we can’t ignore Monday’s decision of the US Supreme Court.

In June 2013, in United States v Windsor 570 US (2013) (Docket No. 12-307) a divided Supreme Court struck down s 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act 1996, which defined “marriage” as a union between a man and a woman. Lower federal courts then started to rely on the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor to strike down five states’ bans on same-sex marriage – in Utah, Virginia, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Wisconsin – and on Monday, again by five to four, the Court turned down seven petitions for certiorari seeking review of those decisions of the lower courts. Continue reading

Religion and law round-up – 5th October

A positive plethora of news this week – the Conservatives on human rights, assisted suicide in Switzerland, same-sex marriage in South Africa, Scientologists in Russia and more – requiring some separation of the wheat from the chaff whilst retaining a few items of broader interest

A UK Bill of Rights – again

Being (we hope) sensible people with more interesting things to do with our lives, weECtHR copy now tend to give the party conference season a fairly wide berth[1]. However, we can’t ignore one of the major news items of the week: that David Cameron told the Conservatives on Wednesday that if elected with a majority he would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. This is what he said, according to the Conservative Party press release:

“Of course, it’s not just the European Union that needs sorting out – it’s the European Court of Human Rights. When that charter was written, in the aftermath of the Second World War, it set out the basic rights we should respect. But since then, interpretations of that charter have led to a whole lot of things that are frankly wrong. Rulings to stop us deporting suspected terrorists. The suggestion that you’ve got to apply the human rights convention even on the battlefields of Helmand. And now – they want to give prisoners the vote.

I’m sorry, I just don’t agree. Continue reading

“Gay wedding row” in Market Bosworth

The Leicester Mercury is a valuable source of current local information on the developments associated with the reburial of Richard III [1]. However, this week it carried a story more pertinent to mainstream “law and religion” issues – the headline “’It is not a gay wedding’ – unholy row erupts over parish priest’s civil partnership service at church”. The story concerns the planned service of blessing in St Peter’s, Market Bosworth, to celebrate the civil partnership of the Team Rector of the Market Bosworth Benefice,  Revd Dominic McClean, and his same sex partner. From the reported facts, this does not appear to raise any significant legal issues since it concerns the personal opinions of a parishioner which he has pursued in letters to the Bishop of Leicester and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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Religion and law round up – 14th September


A mixed week in which same-sex marriage and inter-Church cricket were both in the news…

Same-sex marriage and clergy discipline

On Monday it was announced that Jeremy Pemberton, who lost his Permission to Officiate after he married his partner Laurence Cunnington in April, had filed an Equality Act claim in the Employment Tribunal against the Archbishop of York and the acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. Because Canon Pemberton no longer had a licence in that diocese Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust revoked its offer of a post as its chaplaincy and bereavement manager.

The announcement provoked an interesting debate on the Web, principally in Ian Paul’s blog, Psephizo. The whole issue of whether or not any particular cleric is “employed” and who may be sued in such circumstances is extremely complex. Some comments are better-balanced and better-informed than others – but you can judge for yourself.

Scotland, the Constitution and religion

In the margins of the debate in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum next Thursday a group of academics – Tufyal Choudhury, Professor Ian Leigh and Dr Deirdre McCann of Durham Law School and Sir Tom Devine. Professor Emeritus of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh – have produced detailed proposals for the protection of religious freedom in the event of a Scottish Constitution being drafted. In Religious freedom in Scotland: A legal proposal they conclude that any written Constitution: Continue reading

Same-sex marriage: Jeremy Pemberton sues the C of E

Jeremy Pemberton, an NHS chaplain in Lincolnshire, married his partner Laurence Cunnington in April. Subsequently, the Acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham revoked his Permission to Officiate in his diocese, which meant that he was unable to take up a new post of chaplaincy and bereavement manager for Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – and the Trust subsequently revoked its job offer.

It has now been announced that Canon Pemberton has begun proceedings in an Employment Tribunal; Continue reading

Religion and law round up – 7th September

A week of reviews and resignations rather than “hard law”

Second Church Estates Commissioner to stand down

On Monday Sir Tony Baldry, Conservative  MP for Banbury, announced that he has decided not to contest the seat in 2015. He is 64 and said he had decided to step down after “careful thought” and discussing the issue with his family:

“One of the consequences of now having five year fixed-term parliaments is that, if I succeed in being re-elected at the forthcoming general election, given my age, most people will assume that parliament will be my last.”

The point of this for readers of this blog is that he occupies the position of Second Church Estates Commissioner and  answers parliamentary questions on Church of England matters. He also steers Church of England legislation through the House of Commons and occasionally intervenes to give the C of E view on issues such as same-sex marriage.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner is appointed by the Government: who will succeed Tony Baldry depends, for a start, on who wins the next election – or maybe, given the vagaries of current electoral politics, which party manages to form a coalition.

Human rights – the continuing debate

On Monday The Guardian carried an excellent piece by Joshua Rosenberg: Human rights legislation in the UK: a cut-out-and-keep guide. He concludes (as do we and, more to the point, as does Dominic Grieve) that

“If we want to be sure we can make our own decisions on human rights in future without any risk that they will be overturned by a foreign court, the way forward is clear: we shall have to leave the Council of Europe – and the European Union”.

First thoughts: “If only we’d thought of that”. Second thoughts: “But far more people read The Guardian than read L&RUK…”.

Law and religion – a novelist’s view

Also from The Guardian, Friday’s edition included a fascinating article on the interactions between law and religious belief by Ian McEwan. In The law versus religion he ruminates on a series of judgments (mainly from the Family Division) and the moral dilemmas that can sometimes arise, starting with A (Children), Re [2000] EWCA Civ 254, the tragic case of the conjoined Maltese twin girls. The reason for the piece is that his latest novel, The Children Act, is about a High Court judge who has to deal with a case involving an adolescent boy and, says the publisher’s blurb, “a matter of life and death bringing science and religion into direct conflict”. But his piece in The Guardian is well worth reading. As to the novel, we might tell you once on of us has read it.

How equal is marriage across the UK?

This week the House of Commons Library updated its Research paper RP14/29: Marriage of same sex couples across the UK, first published in May this year and subtitled What’s the same and what’s different?  Readers might reasonably ask “well, what’s new?” to which the answer would be “nothing, yet”. But that’s not really the point of the paper: it is “to Members of Parliament in support of their parliamentary duties and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual.”

Despite its caveat on updating[1], it provides a convenient snapshot of marriage law within the UK at the time of its last amendment (i.e. 1 September 2014).  Of particular use is the table on pages 2 to 4 providing an “at-a-glance” comparison of the provisions applicable in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  However, as the paper is only concerned with the UK, it does not include the Jersey or the Isle of Man, which have provisions for civil partnership, or Guernsey which has neither: convenient summaries of LGBT rights are to be found, here, here, and here.

Rights of Way across churchyards

On Thursday we posted a request from Ian Thornton, who is completing his LLM in Canon Law at Cardiff University, for assistance in sourcing information for his dissertation based on a specific case relating to the establishment of a right of way across a churchyard, but with potential broader implications on the clash between secular and canon law over the designation by local authorities of public footpaths through churchyards. Ian may be contacted at

SS Peter & Paul, Wantage, IMG_0624(2)Access across churchyards does not often feature in ecclesiastical or secular case law, or in the literature, but it is an issue that many take for granted: footpaths across six different churchyards feature of David’s morning runs around Wantage. Checking on Oxfordshire County Council’s Definitive Map revealed that of these, only four had designated footpaths, not a surprise in the case of the one leading to a permissive path, but unexpected in relation to the well-used, paved footpath across a closed churchyard.

The Ramblers Association is right to be concerned with Paths in Crisis, but out of the 117,000 miles of rights of way in England, it is not immediately obvious to see why it chose to take action on the 80-metre footpath running through the churchyard of St John the Baptist’s, Widford – the topic of Ian’s dissertation – on the slender premise that “as the path didn’t appear on the definitive map, it didn’t have any legal protection, and so could be closed off at any time.” As we await with interest the findings of Ian’s work, perhaps PCCs should investigate the status of paths through their churchyards, or even buy into the Caring for God’s Acre initiative.

Quick Links

And finally . . . . .

Brooks Newmark MP (Braintree, Con), the Minister for Civil Society, was quite rightly taken to task by Archdruid Eileen of the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley for his reported comment that Charities should stay out of politics and “stick to their knitting”.  The post Getting Crochet-y with a Knit comments:

“… the Beaker Folk Knitting Circle (registered charity) are knitting a gigantic sock. We’ll be sending it to Brooks Newmark. We’ll leave him to work out what to do with it. If we made any suggestions, that would be interfering in politics.”

Furthermore, the BF Knitting Circle participation in the annual Age UK/Innocent Big Knit fundraising event might now fall within the provisions of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014. Perhaps they should team up with The Woolsack, the promoters of British wool, and persuade Mr Newmark to establish an Associate Parliamentary Group to further their interests[2]


[1] “It should not be relied upon as being up to date; the law or policies may have changed since it was last updated; and it should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice or as a substitute for it. A suitably qualified professional should be consulted if specific advice or information is required.”

[2] A new Guide to the Rules on All-Party Groups was published in July 2014, following the House’s approval of various changes in May 2014.

Religion and law round up – 31st August

A week that saw Donald Tusk approved as the next EU president, a continuation of the domestic row about the ECHR – and L&RUK passing another milestone… 

Halal and shechita

On Thursday we again posted on the debate surrounding religious slaughter, following a report in The Times (£) that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beef and Lamb has called inter alia for experiments on stunning sheep and cattle in order to satisfy consumers of halal meat.  Although not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords, the 16-page report is nevertheless an important document: it summarizes the results of the APPG’s Inquiry during which it receive oral and written evidence from a wide range of stakeholders such as industry experts: Shechita UK, the Halal Food Authority; veterinary professionals, the Farming Minister George Eustice and the European Commission.

The fact that it has been in the public domain since early August is perhaps a reflection of the balanced nature of its findings, to which we will probably return at a later date.  A more detailed summary is available here.

UK population statistics

Also on Thursday the the Office of National Statistics published the most recent data on the UK population in the period to the end of 2013: It includes annual estimates of the UK population by country of birth and nationality and annual statistics on live births, including the countries of birth for non-UK born mothers and fathers. For those interested in issues of religion and society it is extremely useful general background. It also confirms what many of us suspected: Polish is not far from overtaking Welsh as the second most widely-spoken language in the UK.

Human rights again

The low-level war of attrition over the Human Rights Act 1998 continues to rumble on. On Thursday The Times (£) published an interview with Lord Faulks QC, Minister of State for Justice, in which he told Frances Gibb that

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