Category: Religion


The rights (and wrongs) of human rights (and human wrongs)

7 November 2012 by

I have an opinion piece in this week’s Jewish Chronicle, We should support and not condemn Human Rights Act. The “we” in the title is the Jewish community, of which I am a part, although it also amounts to a fairly broad  defence of the Human Rights Act.

The article was at first intended as a direct response to an opinion piece by Jonathan Fisher QC entitled The wrongs of human rights, but because of editorial pressures at the Jewish Chronicle it could not be published until a few weeks later, and as such ended up being a more general article. I have already commented on this blog on why I thought the timing of Fisher’s article was a little odd given that the Bill of Rights Commission, on which he sits, was still consulting the public on the very issues he addressed passionately in the article. I said:

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The thorny issue of religious belief and discrimination law (again)

20 October 2012 by

Black & Morgan v. Wilkinson (unreported, 18 October 2012, Slough County Court) – Read judgment

The Christian owner of a B&B in Berkshire was found to have discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to allow them stay in a double-bedded room because of her belief that all sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong.

Although a county court judgment, this case has been splashed all over the headlines, partly because of BNP leader Nick Griffin’s comments on Twitter (about which see more below) but also because it is so factually similar to the high-profile case of Bull v. Hall and Preddy which is currently before the Supreme Court (see our analysis of the Court of Appeal judgment here). This judgment has also come along at a time when the European Court of Human Rights’ decision is awaited in the four conjoined cases of Ladele, Eweida, Macfarlane and Chaplin, all of which involve issues of religious freedom and two of which involve the same potential conflict between the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation and the right to religious freedom (see our posts here, here and here). Moreover, Recorder Moulder’s comprehensive and careful judgment has helpfully been made available online (see link above), so it can be considered in detail.

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In the name of God: ultra-orthodox Jewish education not in children’s best interest, rules Court of Appeal.

11 October 2012 by

G (Children), Re [2012] EWCA Civ 1233 – read judgment

If you received this article by email, it will have been attributed to Adam Wagner. It is in fact by Karwan Eskerie – apologies

What is happiness? If you thought this most philosophical inquiry was beyond the remit of the judicial system then you should read this case. 

In Re G (Children), the estranged parents of five children disagreed over their education.  Both parents belonged to the Chassidic or Chareidi community of ultra orthodox Jews.  However, whilst the father wanted the children to attend ultra-orthodox schools which were unisex and where all the children complied with strict Chareidi practices, the mother preferred coeducational ‘Modern Orthodox’ schools where boys did not wear religious clothing and peyos (long hair at the sides), and children came from more liberal homes where for instance, television was taken for granted.

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Are Christians really marginalised in this country?

7 September 2012 by

We will have to wait some time before Strasbourg hands down its judgment in the religious discrimination cases it heard earlier this week.

Whatever the outcome – which is perhaps predictable – the Court’s ruling will have a significant influence on the place of religion in public life and on how the relationship between religion and the state should be structured to reflect the aims of fairness and mutual respect envisaged in the Convention.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission argues in its intervention submission that Strasbourg – and the UK courts – should move on from their “restrictive” interpretation of Article 9, summed up by Lord Bingham’s oft-cited description of the Court’s position in R (SB) v Governors of Denbigh High School [2006] UKHL 15

The Strasbourg institutions have not been at all ready to find an interference with the right to manifest a religious belief in practice or observance where a person has voluntarily accepted an employment or role which does not accommodate that practice or observance and there are other means open to the person to practise or observe his or her religion without undue hardship or inconvenience.[para 23]

(This is a revised intervention after the EHRC responded to widespread criticism of its proposed argument in support of “reasonable accommodation” of employees’ beliefs – see Alasdair Henderson’s post on this dust-up “Leap of Faith” and our following post on the reversal of the EHRC’s position.)
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Equality, human rights and religion or belief: time to get out of the courtroom? – Alice Donald

24 August 2012 by

The interaction between the law and religion or belief is rarely out of the headlines. Debate rages about whether Article 9, the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, receives sufficient – or too much – protection in the courts.  There has been a considerable amount of litigation, much of it contentious (see, for example, here, here and here

A new report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) by researchers at London Metropolitan University, including myself, explores these controversies. It is based largely on interviews and roundtable discussions with around 100 religion or belief groups, human rights and/or equality organisations, employers, public service staff, academics and lawyers. It is concerned as much with differing perceptions and understandings of the law as with the law itself. It also examines the practical application of the law in the workplace and public services.

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Judge decides that Jewish girl could be baptised

4 August 2012 by


A Mother v. A Father HHJ Platt, Romford County Court, 11 May 2012, read judgment

I recently dared to enter religious territory in a post about religious no-go zones declared by the courts – they should not pronounce on the intricacies of Sikh succession because it raised doctrinal issues which the courts should not decide. Compare and contrast this family law case.

Judges have to get involved in disputes on divorce, of which the current case is an exquisitely difficult example. Its facts are very simple. C was 10. Her parents and grandparents are Jewish. Her father is a Christian convert, and C wanted to be baptised. Her mother did not want this. She said father had brainwashed C, and it was premature. Mother went to court to stop any baptism proceeding until C was 16. The Court could not simply wash its hands of the case; that would encourage  self-help taken by one or other parent, to the lasting resentment of the other.

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Outlawing God? The limits of religious freedom

25 July 2012 by

Dinah Rose QC

Monday night’s fascinating seminar on Article 9, “Outlawing God”, saw Dinah Rose QC, John Bowers QC, Dr Evan Harris (Liberal Democrat former MP) and Rabbi Michael Laitner (solicitor and Orthodox rabbi) square off over the relationship of the courts to religious belief and believers, refereed (and sometimes stoked) by Joshua Rozenberg in the chair. The seminar, which raised almost £2,000 for legal advice clinics at the Hebrew University, can be listened to here.

There was a clear division in the room: between the lawyers, who felt that the courts in both the UK and Strasbourg afforded less robust protection to Article 9 rights than to the other rights in the Convention; and Dr Harris, who could not accept that a religious belief was any more worthy of protection than any political belief.

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Alien poster campaign’s anti-religious message

22 July 2012 by

Updated | Mouvement Raëlien Suisse v Switzerland [2012] ECHR 1598 (13 July 2012) – read judgment

This case concerned the Swiss authorities’ refusal to allow an association to put up posters featuring extraterrestrials and a flying saucer on the ground that it engaged in activities that were considered immoral.

The association complained it had suffered a violation of its right to freedom of expression. The Grand Chamber did not agree, ruling that the refusal had met a “pressing social need” and that the authorities had not overstepped the broad margin of appreciation given to them in view of the non-political dimension of the poster campaign.

At first blush there is nothing remarkable about this ruling. But it was a narrow majority (nine votes to eight) and a brief reading of the dissenting opinions gives pause for thought: does the slightly loony nature of a message justify its suppression? Lurking behind the authorities’ refusal to allow the association’s advertising campaign is a sense of disapproval vis a vis their anti-Christian message;  one of the campaigns the association wished to conduct featured a poster stating “God does not exist”, and on another, below the association’s website, ran the message “Science at last replaces religion”.
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Religious no-go area for the courts with their “costly crudities”

22 July 2012 by

Khaira v. Shergill [2012] EWCA Civ 893 read judgment

We have become used to the courts getting involved, more or less willingly, in religious issues, not least where religious freedoms conflict with legal rules which are said to be inconsistent with the exercise of those freedoms. But as Adam Wagner pointed out, in an earlier round of this litigation concerning two Sikh places of worship (Gurdwaras), the courts have developed rules stopping themselves from deciding certain cases, not least because the courts recognise they don’t know what they are doing once they get themselves immersed in issues of religious doctrine.

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Church has employer’s duty of liability for parish priests

16 July 2012 by

JEG v  The Trustees of the Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan  [2012] EWCA Civ 938

Elizabeth Anne-Gumbel QCand Justin Levinson of One Crown Office Row acted for the claimant in this case. They did not write this post.

The Court of Appeal has now confirmed that the church can be held liable for the negligent acts of a priest it has appointed. Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court has been refused.

This appeal was another preliminary stage in the main action between the claimant’s action for damages following the alleged sexual abuse and assault by a parish priest (now deceased), and the trustees of the diocesan where he served. The Court of Appeal has now confirmed that the defendants can held to account, even though there was no formal employment relationship between Father Baldwin and the Diocesan – see Rachit Buch’s post for an excellent analysis of the issues and summary of the facts.
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The conservative case for gay marriage

16 July 2012 by

The current debate on legalising gay marriage was sparked by one of the more memorable speeches of this Government, when Prime Minister David Cameron saidI don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative.” 

What has been missing from the debate since that speech has been a convincing, measured discussion from the political right on what he meant. Until now, that is. Today the Policy Exchange, a leading conservative think tank thank, has published What’s In A Name? Is there a case for equal marriage? Don’t be fooled by the question mark in the title. This report represents the best and most carefully considered case for equal marriage from a conservative (with a small ‘c’) perspective so far.

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How most Australians do human rights without a Human Rights Act

9 July 2012 by

A sparkling, erudite and funny lecture last Thursday 5 July from the Chief Justice of Australia, exploring how the Australian system with a constitution, but without a Bill of Rights/Human Rights Act, seeks to deliver human rights protection – thanks to the Administrative Law Bar Association and the Angl0-Australasian Law Society. I shall try to summarise the differences, though, rather like the pre-HRA UK position, Australian human rights protection is a subtle one and a difficult one to explain in a short post. Particularly for a Pom. So I am in part throwing down a challenge to our Australian readers (up until this point, at least, quite a few) to comment on what follows.

The constitutional framework  is all important. There are three major differences between this and the UK “constitution”. The first is the presence of a written constitution over 100 years old, and amendable only by referendum. The second is a federal system laid down by that constitution. Out of that arrangement comes a separation of powers between judiciary, legislature, and executive, and also between the Commonwealth (i.e, the federation) and each State, taken against the background of general common law principles drawn from the States’ shared colonial history. And the third is the lack of any substantive human rights instrument applicable to Australia as a whole.

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German court rules child’s religious circumcision can be a criminal offence – Analysis

27 June 2012 by

Updated | As has been widely reported, a regional German court has ruled that a Muslim boy’s religious circumcision was a crime and that it violated his basic constitutional rights to bodily integrity. This ruling has no direct effect on other European states, but will buoy the campaign against male circumcision.

Thanks to an admirably swift response from the Cologne Regional Court to my request, I have uploaded the appeal decision (the important one), the original decision which was under appeal and the court’s press release. All are in German. I have also uploaded a version of the appeal judgment in English (updated – I have been sent a much better English translation).

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Church of England’s argument against gay marriage is without foundation – Paul Johnson

15 June 2012 by

At the heart of the Church of England’s (CoE) response to the Government’s Equal marriage: a consultation is an argument about the existence and importance of canon law on marriage. The CoE pins its objection to same-sex marriage on the assertion that its ‘teaching on marriage is embodied in law’ and that the Government has failed to consider the significance of canon law in its proposal to change the statutory organization of civil marriage.

What exactly is canon law and how does it relate to marriage?

Canon law (or Canons Ecclesiastical), as set out in the Canons of the Church of England, is primary legislation that determines inter alia the doctrine and form of worship of the CoE. Since the First Act of Supremacy 1534, canon law has been formally subservient to ‘state law’ – it has become progressively subsumed by both common and statutory law – but has often retained a strong influence, particularly in respect of marriage.

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Should atheists be explicitly protected in human rights instruments?

31 May 2012 by

Writing on the Richard Dawkins website, humanist campaigner Leo Igwe-Ieet declares that there is a gaping hole in the protections listed in international rights instruments.

I have heard it proclaimed at the UN that the rights of women are human rights. I have also heard it proclaimed that the rights of gay people are human rights. These proclamations changed the way human rights are perceived around the globe. Personally I have yet to hear it proclaimed at UN, or at our regional and national human rights bodies that the rights of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers are human rights. I do not want these rights to be implied or assumed as currently the case in most countries. I want them to be expressly declared as universal human rights.

The reason why such explicit protection is urgently needed, the writer claims, is because non-believers are particularly vulnerable in some parts of the world, notably Africa. In parts of Africa where fundamentalist belief holds sway, “religious non-believers are treated as if they are not human beings, as if they do not exist or do not have the right to exist.” The right to freedom of religion is of no avail to those who wish to eschew faith altogether. On the contrary,

freedom of religion is often understood as freedom to profess a religion-the religion sanctioned by the state, by one’s family or community- not freedom to change one’s religion or freedom not to profess any religion at all as contained in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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