- 14 September 2008 : the UK government sanctioning powers for sharia judges
The Sunday Times published details of the UK government sanctioning powers for sharia judges. Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court. Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain depended on voluntary compliance. Sharia courts with arbitration powers have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with the network’s headquarters in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Two more courts are being planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, which runs the courts, took advantage of a clause in the Arbitration Act 1996. Under the Act, the sharia courts are classified as arbitration tribunals. The rulings of arbitration tribunals are binding in law, provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case.
- July 2008 : Divisions in the Church over homosexuality of a Bishop
650 bishops attended the Lambeth Conference at the University of Kent at Canterbury. 230 bishops, mainly from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, boycotted the event. Divisions grew particularly after the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, who lives openly with his male partner, in New Hampshire five years ago.
- 29 July 2008 : Sikh girl unlawfully excluded from school for wearing a bangle
The high court ruled that a Sikh girl was unlawfully excluded from school for wearing a bangle, in contravention of the school’s uniform policy. Mr Justice Silber declared that the school was guilty of indirect discrimination under race relations and equality laws. The girl had been supported in her case by Liberty, a human rights pressure group.
- 7 July 2008 : General Synod of the Church of England has voted to consecrate women bishops
The General Synod of the Church of England has voted to consecrate women bishops, with minimal concessions to opponents and despite the threat of a mass exodus of traditionalist clergy.
- 3 July 2008 : Jewish school allowed to rejected admission of a child on the grounds that his mother was not Jewish
It was ruled that a Jewish school did not discriminate against a boy when it rejected his admission on the grounds that his mother was not Jewish. Mr Justice Munby heard how the Jewish Free School in north London refused a place to the boy because its religious authority ruled that the boy’s mother had not converted to a branch of Judaism recognised by the Office of the Chief Rabbi (OCR). The boy’s father was considered Jewish but his mother, who converted to Judaism after his birth, was not. Mr Justice Munby said that the heavily over-subscribed school was not breaking race discrimination laws by giving preference to children born to Orthodox Jewish mothers, and that it was a religious rather than a racial issue.
- 1 July 2008 : Movement against the ordination of Gay people
Nearly 800 clergy and lay leaders from the Church of England took the first steps towards forming a ’Church within a Church’ as an evangelical stronghold against the ordination of gay people. The clergy met at All Souls Langham Place in London, a prominent evangelical church, where they were invited to sign up to the ’Jerusalem declaration’ rejecting liberal doctrines. Most are expected to endorse the statement and form the British arm of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (Foca). This will act as a rival Anglican Communion, emerging out of Gafcon (the Global Anglican Future Conference), a conference of conservative Anglicans held in Israel the previous week. Foca will sever ties with US and Canadian Anglican churches, which it views as having betrayed biblical teaching.
- 30 May 2008 : Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation
Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation was launched in New York. It aims to promote faith as a force for good ; improve awareness between religions ; and tackle poverty and war.
- 21 May 2008 : law on reproductive technology
Parliament has liberalised the law on reproductive technology. It voted to allow the creation of animal-human ’hybrid’ embryos for scientific research. The law was also relaxed to allow the creation of ’saviour siblings’ via in vitro fertilisation, so that children genetically matched to a sibling with a genetic disease can be conceived. An attempt to reduce the 24-week limit on abortions was not passed. Furthermore, an attempt to resist access for lesbian couples to IVF treatment was not passed.
- 24 March 2008 : broad base for religious instruction in state schools
The National Union of Teachers, Britain’s largest teaching union, presented proposals to offer a broad base of religious instruction in state schools, as an alternative to single-faith schools. The proposals involve :
All schools becoming practising multi-faith institutions ;
Faith schools being stripped of their powers to control their own admissions and select pupils according to their faith ;
The daily act of ’mainly’ Christian worship to be liberalised to include any religion ;
Schools to make ’reasonable accommodations’ of children’s faith, including providing private prayer space, recognising religious holidays and being flexible on school uniform, for instance by allowing children to wear religious jewellery or headscarves.
However, a spokesman for the Church of England responded that ’It is for religions to teach their faith to people ; it is for schools to teach about religion’. See ’Union calls for end to single-faith schools. NUT pleads for more religion in all institutions : Heads "should make space for private prayers".’
See The Guardian (March 25, 2008), p. 4.
- 7 March 2008 : common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel
Parliament has repealed the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel. The law was widely regarded as a dead letter, and it appears that only four prosecutions ever succeeded, the first in 1676 and the last in 1976. The law protected the beliefs of the Church of England, whose two archbishops accepted the government’s decision.