Category: Religion


Catholic midwives must continue indirect role in abortions, despite human rights protections

6 March 2012 by

Brought to you by Andrew Tickell

Mary Teresa Doogan & Concepta Wood [2012] CSOH 32 – Read judgment

“For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost, for the want of a shoe the horse was lost, for the want of a horse, the rider was lost, for the want of a rider, the message was lost, for the want of the message, the battle was lost, for the want of the battle, the kingdom was lost, and all for the want of a horse shoe nail”.

A proverbial lesson in causation, and one pressed into service by Lady Smith in the Court of Session in Scotland last week, in a judgment rejecting the judicial review petition of two Catholic midwives employed at a major Glasgow hospital.

Seeking review of Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board’s rejection of their grievances, the pair contended that the conscientious objection provisions of the Abortion Act 1967 – which provides that “no person shall be under any duty, whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection” – was not limited to ‘direct’ participation in abortions, but entitled them to refuse to delegate to, supervise or support staff on their labour ward who were directly involved in medical terminations. Horse shoe nail.

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Michael Gove’s full letter on homophobic teaching materials in schools

22 February 2012 by

The Trade Union Congress have sent me the full letter (download here) which Education Secretary Michael Gove sent to its leader Brendan Barber in relation to a complaint about seemingly homophobic booklets distributed to Roman Catholic schools in Lancashire. The letter which Mr Barber sent to Mr Gove is here.

I complained in this post that the excerpt of the response published by The Observer appeared to misunderstand the provisions of the Equality Act which apply to schools. I also said that the quote in the article could have been out of context. In short, it was. Here is the full paragraph, which presents a much fairer representation of the law:

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Is it legal to teach gay hate in schools?

19 February 2012 by

Updated, 20 Feb 2012 | Following the news recently it would seem that the UK is convulsed by a raging battle between religious observers and, in the words of Baroness Warsi, militant secularists. On the same day, the High Court ruled that Christian prayers held before a council meeting were unlawful, and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court that two Christian hotel owners had discriminated against gay clients by not offering them a double room.

Today’s spat, according to The Guardian, involves a letter sent to the Education Secretary Michael Gove by the Trade Union Congress leader “expressing alarm that a booklet containing “homophobic material” had been distributed by a US preacher after talks to pupils at Roman Catholic schools across the Lancashire region in 2010.” From the quotes provided in The Observer, the book sounds pretty offensive:

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Analysis | Court of Appeal upholds hotel gay discrimination ruling – Marina Wheeler

19 February 2012 by

Bull & Bull v Hall & Preddy [2012] EWCA Civ 83 – Read judgment

On 10th February 2012, the Court of Appeal upheld a Judge’s ruling that a Christian couple, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, had discriminated against Martin Hall and Steven Preddy on grounds of sexual orientation when they refused them a double-bedded room at their hotel near Penzance.

For many years, Mr and Mrs Bull had restricted the use of double-bedded rooms at the Chymorvah Private Hotel to married couples. As devout Christians they believed that monogamous heterosexual marriage was the form of partnership “uniquely intended for full sexual relations” and that sex outside of marriage – whether heterosexual or homosexual – was sinful.  To permit such couples to share a double-bed would, they believed, be to participate in promoting the sin (single-bedded and twin bedded rooms were available to all).

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Prayer in council meetings was unlawful, rules High Court

10 February 2012 by

R on the application of the National Secular Society and Clive Bone v Bideford Town Council – read judgment

The High Court today ruled that the Town Council of Bideford (in Devon) had overreached their powers under the Local Government Act 1972 by insisting on the practice of prayers as part of their formal meetings. The ruling will apply to the formal meetings of all councils in England and Wales, the majority of which are thought to conduct prayers as part of their meetings.

Background

The Secular Society brought this application as part of their campaign to separate religion from public and civil life. They have observed that prayers have been the cause of tension in a number of local councils. But the Society needed  to join an individual claimant since they could not be a “victim” for the purposes of the Human Rights Act.

The claimants contended that the practice, which dates back the days of Elizabeth the First, breached the prohibition on religious discrimination in the Equality Act 2006, and the replacement “public sector equality duty” in the Equality Act 2010: it discriminated indirectly against persons, such as Mr Bone, who had no religious beliefs, and it was not justifiable under those Acts. The practice interfered with Mr Bone’s right not to hold religious beliefs under Article 9 ECHR, and not to be discriminated against for that lack of belief under Article 14. They also contended that it was outside the powers of section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972.
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Archbishop on warpath

29 January 2012 by

Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, has thrown  a firecracker into the consultation on gay marriage, which is about to begin in March. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph he declared that he did not agree that it was the role of the state to define what marriage is.  “It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are”.

Gay rights campaigners have poured scorn on this pronouncement, calling the Archbishop a “religious authoritarian” who wants to  “impose his personal opposition to same-sex marriage on the rest of society.” But this outbreak of bad temper – not unpredictable, given the skirmishing over the consultation on the same issue which took place in Scotland last year – raises the wider issue of the role and influence of church leaders in the process of legal change.

In a secular society, the participation of clerics in the  House of Lords is grudgingly accepted as part of an ancient tradition. And on this issue at least, the general view seems to be that the Church has grounds for complaint.  The current system recognises gay partnerships under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA). But the main change is to alter the Equality Act so as to allow such partnerships to take place on religious premises, and it is that which is being so bitterly opposed, apparently because it brings the matter within the church’s bailiwick. But even if it does,  we have to ask what it is that privileges Sentamu’s voice over any others in the debate over whether gay and heterosexual partnerships should be on an equal footing in all respects, including the place where they are registered.
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A human right to object to war

13 December 2011 by

R v Michael Peter Lyons [2011] EWCA Crim 2808- read judgment

Moral objections to the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan do not constitute a defence to an insubordination charge, the Court Martial Appeal Court has ruled. The appellant was not entitled to disobey a lawful command on the ground of conscientious objection.

At the age of 18 the appellant had volunteered for the Royal Navy and under its auspices was posted to submarines as Leading Medical Assistant. Five years in to his service, he was told that he would be deployed to Afghanistan. He applied for discharge on the basis that he objected to the UK’s role in Afghanistan. His application on grounds of conscientious objection was refused. Before his appeal against this refusal was decided he was ordered to undertake a pre-deployment weapons training course, because of the risk all personnel faced in that theatre, combatant or not. On refusing to submit to this he was convicted of insubordination.

In this appeal against his sentence he argued that  Article 9  protected him from active service from the moment when he told his commanding officer of his objections, until his appeal on grounds of conscientious objection was finally determined. He also contended that he had protected status under the Geneva Convention 1949 and it was unlawful to require him to undergo weapons training.  His appeal was dismissed.
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Bishop can be vicariously liable for priest’s sex abuse, rules High Court

9 November 2011 by

JGE v The English Province of Our Lady of Charity & Anor [2011] EWHC 2871 (QB) (08 November 2011) – Read judgment

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

A Roman Catholic diocese can be held liable for the negligent acts of a priest it has appointed, the High Court has ruled. The ruling is a preliminary issue in the Claimant’s proceedings against alleged sexual abuse and rape at a children’s home. The trial of these allegations are to follow.

The Claimant, a 47-year-old woman, is suing the Portsmouth Roman Catholic diocese for the injury she alleges she suffered from abuse and rape while living at a children’s home run by the diocese in the early 1970s. The priest involved, Father Baldwin, is now dead. The High Court was asked to determine, before the trial of the allegation, whether the diocese – that is, the district under supervision of the Bishop – could be held liable for Father Baldwin’s acts; whether the principle of vicarious liability applies to a diocesan bishop for the acts of a priest he has appointed.

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Equality and Human Rights Commission reverses position on religious cases intervention

22 August 2011 by

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has reversed its plans to intervene in two European Court of Human Rights cases about religious discrimination. 

Last month the Commission announced that it would intervene in European Court of Human Rights cases on behalf of religious believers who failed to convince the UK courts that they were being discriminated against in the workplace. Two of the proposed interventions – in which the EHRC proposed a “reasonable accommodation” for religion and belief cases (an idea proposed on this blog by Aidan O’Neill QC) – courted controversy, as Alasdair Henderson explained in his post, A leap of faith?

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Can you choose an arbitrator on the grounds of his religion?

5 August 2011 by

Jivraj v. Hashwani [2011] UKSC 40 Read judgment

We all know that these days you cannot just say you want to employ a Muslim or a Catholic without a good reason. But what about the potentially different question as to whether you can choose your own private judge, namely an arbitrator, by reference to his or her religion?

This problem faced the Supreme Court recently. Its answer involved a detailed analysis of what was involved in the whole process of arbitration, and the similarities and difference between it and a more typical relationship between client and professionals. The Court also touches on the exception to the rule against discrimination, based upon the job having a genuine occupational requirement for a person of a given religion.

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Religious freedom does not stop at the prison gates – Part 2

21 July 2011 by

Jakobski v Poland (December 2010) – read judgment

Mahayana Buddhists have profound moral objections to eating meat. According to the rules, a Mahayana Buddhist should avoid eating meat to cultivate compassion for all living beings.

Even peaceable Buddhists commit crimes sometimes and go to prison. Meat free diets however are not available in all European penitentiaries. Should committed vegetarians be made to forfeit their beliefs once their offences against society have committed them to penal servitude?

In Poland, apparently, the answer is yes. The refusal to provide a Buddhist prisoner with a meat-free diet was not unlawful under local law which provided only that prisoners should receive meals taking into consideration their employment, age and where possible religious and cultural beliefs. That let-out clause allowed the Polish government to issue an ordinance requiring the provision of special meals for diabetics and a “light diet”. Both contain meat products.
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A leap of faith?

20 July 2011 by

In the midst of all the coverage of the phone hacking scandal and the mounting woes of News Corporation an interesting piece of human rights news from the past week got lost: the announcement by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) that it is applying to intervene in four cases before the European Court of Human Rights being brought by Christians who claim their Article 9 rights are not being sufficiently protected in UK law.

The applicants are Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane, each of whom has lost claims of workplace discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief in the UK courts over the past couple of years (see our general comment pieces here and here). The EHRC has now said that in its view “Judges have interpreted the law too narrowly in religion or belief discrimination claims” and that “the way existing human rights and equality law has been interpreted by judges is insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief.”

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Should male circumcision be banned?

15 June 2011 by

Yesterday Neil Howard and Rebecca Steinfeld asked via guardian.co.uk whether it is Time to ban male circumcision? The article was prompted by attempts to ban the practice in San Francisco.

Male circumcision is common amongst Muslims and Jews, but judging from the 286 comments (so far!) to the article, there are a lot of people who feel that the practice is outdated and should be banned. I have responded with my own article, arguing that whilst the debate is by no means settled, a ban at present would amount to a disproportionate interference with freedom of religion rights.

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Religious freedom doesn’t stop at the prison gate

7 June 2011 by

R (Imran Bashir) v. The Independent Adjudicator, HMP Ryehill and the Secretary of State for Justice [2011] EWHC 1108 – read judgment here.

1 Crown Office Row’s John Joliffe appeared for the Secretary of State for Justice in this case. He is not the writer of this post.

The High Court held last week that disciplining a Muslim prisoner for failing to give a urine sample in a drugs test when he was in the midst of a voluntary fast was a breach of his right to manifest his religious beliefs. 

Recent claims or defences on the basis of Article 9, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, have mostly been unsuccessful – see our comments on the Catholic adoption agencies, fostering and Cornish hotel cases, as well as Aidan O’Neill’s feature article. However, in this case His Honour Judge (HHJ) Pelling QC held that the failure to even consider a prisoner’s Article 9 rights meant that the decision to discipline him was fatally flawed.

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Adoption, same-sex couples and religion – again

3 May 2011 by

In a modern liberal democracy we take for granted the fact that laws apply to all individuals and are enforced by the courts without special consideration of religious beliefs they may happen to have.

But for a while at least there was a very real danger of the dissolution of the divide between private orthodoxy and public principle following the widespread invocation of Article 9 in the courts. This came to a head in the furore over the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s intervention in the MacFarlane v Relate case, provoking some very sharp words from Lord Justice Laws. Although religious groups continue to rattle their sabres, a recent ruling from the Charity Tribunal suggests that the right to religion is losing its edge somewhat on the litigious battlefield. Does this mark a trend away from making concessions to the devout?

We posted previously on the somewhat convoluted history of Catholic Care v Charity Commission for England and Wales. Essentially the Charity wished to legitimise its policy of excluding same sex couples from its adoption services by seeking permission from the Charity Commission to amend its objects of association. They sought thereby to a statutory exception to the general prohibition on discrimination in the Equality Act 2010.

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