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2019

October 2019: Religious leaders speaking truth to power over Brexit
With the Brexit debate becoming increasingly divisive as the deadline for Britain’s proposed departure from the EU approaches, (...)

  • October 2019: Religious leaders speaking truth to power over Brexit

With the Brexit debate becoming increasingly divisive as the deadline for Britain’s proposed departure from the EU approaches, religious leaders have appealed for calm and mutual respect on all sides. The Church of England bishops released a joint statement calling on people not to exacerbate tensions inside and outside the Parliament and tone down the rhetoric.

In their letter they asked to be mindful of fellow citizens, their views and their votes. They also called on the leading politicians to respect the rule of law, referring to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s earlier disagreement with the Supreme Court declaring his prorogation of the parliament unlawful. The bishops made the statement fully affirming their respect for the outcome of the June 2016 referendum which resulted in majority of British people voting to come out of the European Union.

This is not the first time Christian leaders have openly expressed their anxieties about societal divisions generated by the Brexit debate. Earlier this year representatives of different Christian denominations have already written an open letter to Boris Johnson expressing their concerns about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and its impact on the most vulnerable members of society. In particular, they called on the government to publish its current evidence on the impact of a no-deal on disadvantaged communities. Their concerns made all the more pertinent with the growing number of people resorting to foodbanks.

The European referendum exposed many divisions within British society and Christian groups were no exception. Only last year, a study by Linda Woodhead and Greg Smith found differences in opinions – for example, the majority of those who identify with the Church of England supported Brexit, with 66% of Anglicans voting Leave, compared to a national average of 52%. On the other hand, self-defined English Evangelicals appeared to be more pro-European in their outlook.

Somewhat similar conclusions were reached in another piece of research based on the data from Waves 7-9 of the 2016 British Election Study Referendum Panel. Ekaterina Kolpinskaya and Stuart Fox suggested that adherents to the Church of England and Church of Scotland, both with historically strong connections to the state and national identity, were most Eurosceptic, whereas Catholics were not found to be especially Europhile, contrary to popular expectations. Their study also found that the non-religious tended to be more supportive of remaining in the European Union.

Increasing calls for greater scrutiny and consideration may reflect high levels of frustration with the Brexit process. However, this also suggests a certain willingness amongst different denominations or at least their leaders to reach out across the divides and develop a greater sense of societal cohesion. Whether their collective efforts to speak truth to power are successful remains to be seen.

D 2 October 2019    AKatya Braginskaia

2018

September 2018: Faith-based activism and social inclusion in the secular age
Does religion bring people together or does it create tensions and reinforce societal divides? This topic continues (...)

  • September 2018: Faith-based activism and social inclusion in the secular age

Does religion bring people together or does it create tensions and reinforce societal divides? This topic continues to stimulate lively discussions about religion and its role in promoting community activism and social inclusion in Britain.

Recent data from opinion polls indicates that the social value of religious affiliation remains contested. According to the Global Study done in 2017, 6 in 10 people in Britain believe that religion does more harm than good. A survey by Ipsos-Mori for the BBC found that 47% thought that differences between religions were seen as a one of the key drivers for divisions. Based on this evidence, the National Secular Society has even recommended for policymakers to avoid dividing people along religious lines.

The ways in which religious affiliation is perceived in British society offers an intriguing insight into public attitudes towards religious equality and inclusion. For example, 27% of adult Britons interviewed by YouGov in August 2018 felt that it was more acceptable to criticise Christianity, but 49% suggested that it was neither more nor less acceptable to criticize Christianity than any other religion. The same poll also revealed that respondents saw clear benefits of people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds mixing together.

A mutually-beneficial relationship between religion, social capital and community activism is well documented. Not only is it evidenced by extensive work by Christian organisations (see Church in Action: A National Survey), but also by minority faith groups, including Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Sikh communities (see Public Faith and Finance or Belief in Social Action).

In the current climate of financial austerity, faith-based organisations and charities are making an important contribution to alleviating poverty and social exclusion in Britain by providing welfare support and organising food collections, by running debt advice surgeries and lobbying the government to address financial hardship.

According to the Public Faith and Finance report, many of these activities seek to be inclusive and collaborative in their approach. Rather than catering for the needs of one’s own religious community, different faith organisations, such as Sufra Foodbank and Kitchen or Midland Langar Seva Society aim to provide support for their local neighbourhood, regardless of people’s religious affiliation or the lack of it. In particular, a number of different organisations have pulled together their resources and used each other’s premises and places of worship to reach a larger number of recipients.

Last year the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims compiled a comprehensive report entitled ‘Faith as the Fourth Emergency Service’ to showcase the contributions British Muslim charitable organisations make to British society - not in isolation, but often in partnership with other religious and secular groups. In fact, the work of British Muslim charities is seen as a strong antidote to some of the negative assumptions about British Muslim communities expressed in the media.

Collaborative faith action to help and welcome Syrian refugees offers another illustration of religious values and humanitarian motivations coming together: from raising funds and providing welfare support to campaigning on issues of resettlement and asylum. Churches and aid organisations across the UK have called on the government to take action, encouraging donations from church members and providing support wherever possible. There have been some further examples of different communities working together to welcome refugees and support their integration with the help of community refugee sponsorship groups, such as the latest initiatives in Kingston.

In their recent report on ‘Faith and Welcoming’, staff and students from the University of Bristol found that a monthly attendance of a place of worship helps generate ‘warmer attitudes towards immigrants’. Their analysis of the data from the British Social Attitudes Survey showed that the actively-religious people were the least likely to choose immigration as an issue of concern, followed by the unreligious, followed by the nominally-religious. One of the potential explanations for this is the effect of the messages of openness towards immigrants and refugees which are often broadcast by religious personnel and echoed by the congregation.

In light of the declining numbers of people participating in organised religion, whether or not such inclusive practices can succeed may depend not only on the level of local resources and opportunities but also on the willingness to create collaborative partnerships between religious and non-religious members living in the same local neighbourhoods.

  • September 2018: New recommendations for teaching Religious Education in British schools

The independent Commission on Religious Education in England and Wales has just published a new report about the role of Religious Education (RE) in Britain. In light of the declining religious affiliation in the country, the report makes a significant contribution to understanding the changing role of religion in British society and education.

Earlier this year, the former Labour education secretary Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead, a professor in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University, produced a pamphlet outlining their vision for religion and belief in schools, in which they called for a series of changes in how RE is being taught. There has been a strong criticism of the Education Act 1944 which is increasingly seen as outdated and no longer relevant for the needs of contemporary society in which the Christian faith is not as important as it once was. In 2017, the British Social Attitudes Survey found that 52% of people had no religion compared to only 41% in 2002.

Based on the findings of a two-year study carried out by the Commission, the new report suggests that the syllabus should be updated to reflect the diversity of religious and non-religious perspectives. The core recommendation is a new National Entitlement for all pupils in all schools that specifies the ways in which the subject is to be taught to reflect the complexity, diversity and plurality of how ‘religion’ and ‘worldviews’ are being conceptualised and experienced in modern Britain.

The report does not claim that religion has completely lost its significance. However, it highlights the need to engage with a variety of religions and worldviews, including humanism, secularism, atheism and agnosticism. It also recommends that RE should be statutory for all publicly funded schools, and that teachers should receive better training for the discipline.

The Commission was in part motivated by the evidence that the quality of RE provision has been plummeting in recent years coupled with the decreased intake of the subject. There were also concerns expressed by some parents who were reluctant for their children to learn about Islam as part of the RE classes.

The report has received some mixed reactions. While the Church of England’s chief education officer has welcomed the recommendations, the most outspoken criticisms have come from representatives of schools with a religious character. For example, the Board of Deputies of British Jews criticised ‘the dilution of religious education through the inclusion of worldviews.’ The Catholic Education Service said ‘the quality of RE is not improved by teaching less religion’ (see The Conversation).

The debate on the changing nature of RE in schools continues to divide opinions. For some, it is an attempt to dilute the syllabus or even undermine some of the multicultural concessions secured by faith schools in their struggle to maintain their distinctive ethos. For others, a wider and a more inclusive scope of religious education is seen as a progressive measure designed to enhance the role of religion in the national curriculum.

D 24 September 2018    AKatya Braginskaia

2017

18 April 2017: Prime minister’s Easter message on the importance of Christian heritage
Prime Minister Theresa May’s Easter message instigated considerable stir and debate about the role of (...)

  • 18 April 2017: Prime minister’s Easter message on the importance of Christian heritage

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Easter message instigated considerable stir and debate about the role of religion both in government and for national identity. In her address, two days before announcing a general election, she made a number of references to the importance of Christianity and Christian values, as a means of uniting the country after Brexit:

“This Easter I think of those values that we share – values that I learnt in my own childhood, growing up in a vicarage. Values of compassion, community, citizenship. The sense of obligation we have to one another. These are values we all hold in common, and values that are visibly lived out everyday by Christians, as well as by people of other faiths or none.”

Although “other faiths and none” were mentioned in passing, there was an implication that the values aspired to are understood to be Christian. Some people also felt it undermines the deep political divisions within the country after the referendum. Former Labour communications director Alastair Campbell accused her of implying that God would have voted to Leave Europe.

She also appealed to religious freedom, and urged that “We must continue to ensure that people feel able to speak about their faith, and that absolutely includes their faith in Christ.” Although the statement was general, it has been read as suggesting that Christians do not enjoy religious freedom in Britain. Secular campaign groups have found this ludicrous given the protected status of the Church of England.

A couple of weeks before, Theresa May had expressed her outrage at an advertisement from The National Trust a chocolate egg hunt not using the word “Easter”.

On 18 April, the prime minister called for a general election to be held on 8 June. The purpose is to secure a majority for the Conservative Party in parliament, in the time leading up to the separation from the European Union in 2019.

Read more, including the full speech at Huffington Post, I News and The Guardian.

D 26 April 2017    AIngrid Storm

2016

June 2016: Asylum decisions made on the basis of Bible quiz
A recent report has revealed the unfair treatment of asylum claims made on religious grounds in Britain. The Home Office, which runs (...)

  • June 2016: Asylum decisions made on the basis of Bible quiz

A recent report has revealed the unfair treatment of asylum claims made on religious grounds in Britain. The Home Office, which runs the asylum system, tries to determine the authenticity of the conversions to Christianity by asking such applicants questions concerning the Bible or the Church. The all-party parliamentary group on international religious freedom, who are behind the report, argue that asylum seekers who have converted to Christianity are not given a real opportunity to communicate their faith. Instead, they are asked factual questions about the Bible and the Christian calendar, which may or may not reflect their genuine beliefs. This report has sparked some debate about whether and how religious faith can be measured. On the one hand, the questions could be seen as "too easy", as some applicants could simply study for the test without having made a true conversions. On the other hand, converts who are at risk of persecution for their religious identity may not be granted asylum, because they have not memorised the ten commandments. The report also said that the caseworkers making the asylum decisions were not adequately trained in dealing with religious conversions and the difficult task of determining their authenticity.

Read more about this story at the BBC.

  • 15 March 2016: Independent inquiry into child abuse urges change of practice in the Church of England

An independent enquiry into the Church of England’s handling of a child sexual abuse case from 1976, reveals systematic silencing, cover-up and failure to act.

The anonymous survivor, who was 16 when he was groomed and raped by an Anglican vicar, Rev Garth Moore, told several members of the church over a period of 40 years what had happened to him, but received no support or meaningful response to his revelation. He opened up to senior figures in the church, who later claimed to have no recollection of these conversations. He also wrote 18 letters to the archbishop of Canterbury. When the survivor formally reported the abuse and lodged a claim for compensation in 2014, the church cut off contact completely because the insurers wanted to avoid liability.

The church has responded to the inquiry’s report with a promise to change their practices. In the future, members of the clergy will be required to record any disclosures of abuse. They are also required to take action, and to prioritise pastoral care of survivors over concerns about reputational or financial consequences.

The report is part of a large scale independent review into institutional child abuse, and comes in the wake of a number of child sexual abuse cases featuring politicians and senior figures in the Church of England, among them George Bell and Peter Ball, former bishops in the Church of England.

Read more about the case in the Guardian.

  • 26 January 2016: Plans to stop secular campaigners complaints against faith schools announced

The education secretary, Nicky Morgan, has announced plans to stop complaints against faith schools from secularist campaign groups.

In England, faith schools make up around a third of all state funded schools, and 99% of these are Christian. Faith schools are legally entitled to give priority to children from particular religious backgrounds, as long as they have more applications than available places.

The British Humanist Association (BHA)’s report “An Unholy Mess” published in October 2015, uncovered widespread violation of the school admissions regulations by religiously selective secondary schools, and claim such schools illegally deny places to significant numbers of children.

The government will carry out a public consultation on the proposed changes. If they go through, only complaints from local councils and parents living in the local area will be considered in future. According to the education secretary, the purpose of the new rules are to limit time-consuming bureaucracy, and ensure that parents and local communities had more influence on the admissions process.
The BHA chief executive, Andrew Copson, called the plans “an affront to both democracy and the rule of law.”

You can read more about this debate in the Guardian.

  • 18 January 2016: Prime Minister argues Muslim women should learn English

In a controversial radio interview, Prime Minister David Cameron pledged an increased funding for English language classes of £20 million to combat isolation and prevent radicalisation in Muslim communities. He argued that Muslim women who do not know English, may be less aware of what influences their children. He also said they may feel confused about their identity and be more vulnerable to persuasion by ISIS and other Islamic extremists. Under a new policy, migrants on a five year spousal visa may be deported after two and a half years if they fail an English test.

While many welcome the £20 million funding for more English as a foreign language classes, the opposition highlights that it would not make up for the £45 million budget cut to English classes only six months earlier. Further, many are asking why opportunities to learn English should be specifically targeted to Muslim women.

The Prime Minister has been heavily criticised for making a tenous link between language ability, and political and religious extremism. Critics argue that stigmatising an already vulnerable group of people is counterproductive to preventing radicalisation.

You can read more about this debate on the BBC and in the Independent.

D 6 July 2016    AIngrid Storm

2015

February 2015: Visit my Mosque Day - a new national initiative
On Sunday 1 February, The Muslim Council of Britain organised a national day where more than 20 mosques across the country opened (...)

  • February 2015: Visit my Mosque Day - a new national initiative

On Sunday 1 February, The Muslim Council of Britain organised a national day where more than 20 mosques across the country opened their doors to the general public. They served tea and cakes, gave tours of the buildings and answered questions about Islam and Muslim worship to anyone who wanted to drop by. The Muslim Council described Visit My Mosque day “part of a national initiative by Muslims to reach out to fellow Britons following tensions around terrorism”. On their website the umbrella organisation say they hope to repeat the event later in the year.

More information can be found in The Guardian.

  • January 2015: Cohort study shows gender gap in British religiosity

A new study of more than 9,000 British people born in 1970 has received much media attention for showing very substantial gender differences in religiosity in Britain (see for example the Independent). More than half (54%) of the men surveyed said they were atheists or agnostics, compared to only a third (34%) of the women. The survey, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, involved members of the 1970 British Cohort Study, conducted by the Institute of Eductation’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies.

In a working paper released on 21 January 2015 by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), David Voas (University of Essex) examines the changes in religiosity over the life course. He found that there could be a great deal of fluctuation in the responses of the same individual over time. About a quarter even changed their response on whether they were brought up religious. On the whole, there is more movement from religious to nonreligious responses, than the other way around, consistent with the general religious decline in Britain in the past 30 years.

Many of the respondents in the panel could be classified as either religious or nonreligious, depending on which survey questions you ask them. For example “only two thirds of those who say ‘I know that God really exists and I have no doubts about it’ think that there is definitely life after death” (Voas 2015:16). These apparent inconsistencies, both over time and within the same survey, underscore that the boundaries between religious and nonreligious can be fluid. Large proportions of those who identify as religious believers also express doubt about their beliefs. Men are more likely to express such doubts than women, while women are more likely to express uncertainty about atheistic or nonreligious beliefs.

  • January 2015: Libby Lane is the first female bishop in the Church of England

The first female bishop in the Church of England has been consecrated in York Minster. The Reverend Libby Lane was made Bishop of Stockport (Greater Manchester) on 26 January 2015 by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. The ceremony was interrupted by Rev. Paul Williamson, who has previously been an avid protester against the ordinationt of female priests. Women have been priests in the Church of England since 1994, but it is only since last year that the law was changed to allow female bishops. This is despite Anglican female bishops having been consecrated in several other countries. The long debate that preceded the change reflects a division within the Church of England, and within the Anglican church worldwide, between Anglo-Catholic and evangelical movements on the one hand, and more liberal elements on the other.

To read more and watch parts of the ceremony, see the BBC.

D 12 March 2015    AIngrid Storm

2014

November 2014: Trojan horse scandal leads to debate about faith schools and religious education
A number of faith schools in Britain are currently being questioned and downgraded by school (...)

  • November 2014: Trojan horse scandal leads to debate about faith schools and religious education

A number of faith schools in Britain are currently being questioned and downgraded by school inspectors for not teaching pupils about different faiths or warning them of the dangers of extremism. This follows a recent series of events known as the “Trojan horse” scandal in which schools in Birmingham were accused of promoting Islamist ideology.
In March 2014 a letter was leaked, in which Islamists claimed responsibility for installing new headteachers in Birmingham. The letter, which authenticity has since been questioned, raised allegations that several schools in Birmingham and elsewhere were being run by Islamists systematically trying to spread an extremist ideology. This alleged campaign became known as “Operation Trojan horse” and led to a large government investigation of five schools. While the government found no evidence of terrorism or violent extremism, the inspectors did report weak management, mistrust among staff, active promotion of conservative Sunni Islamism by some teachers, and intolerance and intergroup tensions on religious lines within the schools. There had also been a number of complaints from parents that participation in Christian worship was required from the largely Muslim student body.
The schools involved in the original scandal in Birmingham were not faith schools. However, the Office for Standards in Education has since become more critical of religious influences and religious teaching, and this includes questioning how faith schools operate. A Jewish secondary school and a Catholic school have already both been placed into special measures after the new rules came in place. The new education secretary, Nicky Morgan, is launching a consultation suggesting that those taking religious education at secondary level should have to study more than one faith.

Read more about the debate in the Guardian.

  • 24 April: Prime Minister’s comments about Christianity sparks debate about the separation of Church and State

In his Easter reception in Downing Street, Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron has spoken about his Christian faith, and how it helps him make moral decisions. His speech, and particularly his description of Britain as a “Christian country”, has sparked much reaction among the press. A letter signed by 50 public figures claimed that the UK was "a non-religious" and "plural" society, and that Cameron’s claims could foster divisions. Nick Clegg, leader of the other party in the Coalition government, the Liberal Democrats, has argued for a separation of Church and State. Archbishop Justin Welby on the other hand has backed Cameron’s claim, and said, he is right to state that Britain is a “Christian country” regardless of the number of Christian believers due to the historical and current influence of the church.

Read excerpts from Cameron’s article in The Guardian, and the Archbishop’s reaction on the BBC.

  • 29 March: First gay couples are wed in Britain, but Anglican clergy are told to avoid doing so themselves

The Marriage (of same-sex couples) Act came into force in July last year, but the first wedding ceremonies took place on Saturday, 29th March 2014. The law in England and Wales has also been changed to recognise for the first time same-sex marriages performed overseas. In preparation to the change in law, a recent letter from the house of bishops discourages Anglican clergy from marrying partners of the same sex. However, at least seven clergy couples are preparing to marry in defiance of their bishops, although none of them are known to be planning a public ceremony. The bishop of Salisbury issued a statement just before the new law took effect, praising the couples who will get married and assuring them of his prayers and good wishes. His supportive remarks echo the views of a significant body of dissent within the Church of England, who are unhappy with the formal position taken in the church against gay marriage.

Read more about this in the Guardian.

  • 22 March: British solicitors encouraged to write Sharia compliant wills

New guidelines for solicitors on drawing up “Sharia compliant” wills represent the first time Islamic law could be implemented in the British legal system. Under a new guidance policy produced by The Law Society, solicitors can write Islamic wills that exclude unbelievers and deny women an equal share of inheritances. Children born out of wedlock, and spouses married in non-Muslim weddings could also be excluded from succession under Sharia principles.
The new guidance has been met with many negative reactions. The Law Society defended the guidance as responding to the demands of a multifaith society, but other lawyers are sceptical of encouraging the growth of a “parallel legal system”. Many are also worried about the implications for gender equality and human rights. Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, was quoted in the Telegraph saying: “This guidance marks a further stage in the British legal establishment’s undermining of democratically determined human rights-compliant law in favour of religious law from another era and another culture”.
The protests have led to calls for a Parliamentary inquiry into the current scale of Islamic law in the UK. Sharia principles have so far not been formally included in Britain’s legal system, but a network of approximately 85 informal Sharia bodies exist. They deal with commercial and family disputes between Muslim families.

Read more about this in the Telegraph.

  • 6 March: Head of British vets demands change in ritual slaughter legislation

The new head of the British Veterinary Association, John Blackwell, has said the ritual slaughter of animals should be adapted to prevent animal suffering. UK legislation allows traditional Jewish and Muslim practice of slitting the animal’s throat and allowing them to bleed to death, to produce kosher and halal meat. More than 600,000 animals are bled to death in religious abattoirs in Britain every week.

Mr Blackwell said that sheep could remain conscious for up to seven seconds after having their throat cut, while for cattle it was two minutes. He argued that animals should be stunned at the time of death to prevent unnecessary suffering. He also suggested to ban the practice if Muslims and Jews refuse to adopt more humane methods of killing. Pressure for a ban on religious slaughter without stunning is supported by animal welfare charities.

Jewish campaigners argue these methods of slaughter do preserve animal welfare. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also disagreed with the views of Mr Blackwell, saying that a ban on ritual slaughter would breach the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities.

Read more about this on the BBC and in the Telegraph.

  • 14 January: A 23 year old Afghan man is believed to have become the first to be granted asylum in the UK on the basis of his non-religion.

The man, who was brought up as a Muslim, arrived in the England in 2007, and was given temporary leave to remain. Since then, he has become an atheist, and feared that if forcibly returned to his homeland he would face persecution for having renounced his faith. With help from a free law clinic for students, he submitted his claim to the Home Office under the UN’s 1951 refugee convention, arguing that if he returned to Afghanistan he would face persecution on the grounds of religion, or in his case, lack of religion. The Home Office’s decision to accept denial of the existence of God as grounds for protection could set a significant precedent in asylum and immigration cases.

Read more in the Guardian.

  • 5 January: The Church of England is testing a new version of the baptism service omitting references to “sin” and “the devil”.

In the new version; parents and godparents are instead asked to "reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises". The new wording of the service was devised in response to requests to couch the ceremony more accessible language and is being piloted in 400 parishes until April. It is not been formally approved by the church’s governing body, the General Synod. Nonetheless, it has already been criticised by former bishop Michael Nazir-Ali for “dumbing down” the Church’s teachings.

Read more in the Mail on Sunday.

D 9 December 2014    AIngrid Storm

2013

11 December 2013: The UK’s highest court has ruled that Scientology is a religion and that members can marry in their church.
Scientologist Louisa Hodkin, who wanted to marry her fiancé in a (...)

  • 11 December 2013: The UK’s highest court has ruled that Scientology is a religion and that members can marry in their church.

Scientologist Louisa Hodkin, who wanted to marry her fiancé in a Church of Scientology chapel in central London took her case to the supreme court and won. So far, the chapel was refused by the registrar general of births, deaths and marriages for the solemnisation of marriages under the 1855 Places of Worship Registration Act. On Wednesday, five Supreme Court justices ruled in her favour, announcing that the Scientology chapel was a "place of meeting for religious worship and that religion should not be confined to faiths involving a "supreme deity", as this would exclude other non-theistic faiths such as Buddhism. The ruling overturns a reading of the law from a 1970 court of appeal case, which was based on scientology’s lack of “veneration of God or of a Supreme Being". While some welcome this ruling as a sign of religious equality and freedom, others are concerned about its implications. Particularly, there is worry that the controversial organisation would now qualify for tax exemptions. Local government minister Brandon Lewis has said his department will take legal advice, but that premises which are not genuinely open to the public will still have to pay business rates, and cannot qualify for tax relief.

  • 20 November 2013: The Church of England has voted in favour of new proposals to approve female bishops next year.

At a three day meeting in London, the General Synod the synod voted in favour of the new plans by an overwhelming majority of 378 to eight, thus ending a 20-year standoff between modernisers and traditionalists. Recent debates in the media have called for a more united Church of England, with many including Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, arguing that internal splits, factions and arguments damages the churches appeal to ordinary Anglicans.

More can be read about this in the Guardian

  • 10 November 2013: The National Secular Society has called for a non-religious Rememberance Sunday Ceremony.

In the lead up to the commemoration service Sunday, 10. November, Norman Bonney, a director of the National Secular Society, argued that the Cenotaph, where the ceremony is held, was created as a secular memorial, and that the annual ceremony should no longer contain prayers and readings from scripture. According to Bonney, Edwin Lutyens who designed The Cenotaph, inaugurated in 1919, championed secular commemoration because those who died in the war were from many different nations and religions. The Church of England has criticised the National Secular Society’s call for Christian ritual to have no role in the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph, dismissing it as a “rather sad” attempt at seeking publicity.

More can be read about this in The Independent

  • 17 October 2013: A controversial Muslim faith school is expected to be closed by the government.

The Al-Madinah school in Derby was labelled as “chaotic” and “dysfunctional” in a report by Government education inspectors. On 1 November the education department will decide whether to terminate the school’s funding. This would effectively force the school to close, as it is thought to be unable to raise funds independently. The Labour Party believes the report has significance across England because it has highlighted key flaws in the governments free schools programme, where local education authorities have little role in monitoring schools. The report, which mentions that female teachers are obliged to wear headscarves and that girls and boys eat lunch separately has contributed to a more general debate about faith schools. However, the main issues raised in the report were not about religion, but about poor management and lack of teacher training.

More can be read about this in the Guardian.

  • 10 October 2013: During September and early October there has been a debate in the press about the use of the Niqab and other face veils in public places.

A minister in the Home Office, Jeremy Browne (Liberal Democrat), called for a national debate in September on whether the state should step in to prevent young women from being pressured or coerced into wearing a veil. Browne’s intervention follows a controversial decision by Birmingham Metropolitan College to drop a ban on the wearing of full-face veils amid public protests. Freedom of religion is considered a very important value in Britain, and disputes about religious dress are usually solved on a case-to case basis. Some have criticized the government from trying to introduce a national debate about a relatively minor issue during the party conferences to distract the press and public from the country’s economic situation. Nonetheless the use of face veils in certain situations does raise concerns about security, religious rights and equality of access to education and jobs. Since the call for debate was introduced the debate about the Niqab has died down in the press, perhaps reflecting that it is only worn by a very small proportion of the population.

An overview of the context and the different arguments can be found in the Guardian.

  • 26 September 2013: Interpol issues arrest warrant for British Muslim convert

Interpol has issued an international arrest warrant for Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of one of the July 7 London bombers, in connection with suspected terrorist offences in 2011. The arrest warrant has been issued at the request of Kenya after intense speculation linking Lewthwaite to the attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi, for which the al-Qaida-linked Somali group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility. However, the warrant does not relate to the recent terrorist attack, but to charges of possession of explosives and conspiracy to commit a felony dating back to December 2011. Kenyan officials said on Tuesday there was no evidence that Lewthwaite was involved in the attack. Another Briton, Jermaine Grant, was arrested in Mombasa where Kenyan anti-terrorism police found bomb making material. The speculation about the involvement of Lewthwaite, often dubbed “The White Widow” by the press, has led to discussions in the press about the radicalisation of British converts to Islam.

Read more about the story in the Guardian

  • 12 September 2013: Church of Wales allows Female Bishops

Women bishops will be allowed in the Church in Wales following a landmark yes vote by the governing body. In the breakdown, the laity voted 57 for, 14 against, with two abstentions; the clergy section saw 37 voting for and 10 against, while the bishops voted unanimously in favour. The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, called it "an historic day for the Church in Wales." In England, the issue is due to be discussed again in November. Ireland and Scotland both allow female bishops, although none has been elected yet.

Read more on the BBC

  • 25 July 2013: Archbishop of Canterbury challenges payday loan companies with support for credit unions

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury launched a new credit union for church staff earlier this month, and plans to expand credit unions as an alternative to payday lenders. The short term lending industry has been one of the fastest growing sectors during the recession, has been criticised for targeting vulnerable borrowers who become burdened by big debts as a result of high interest rates and fees. In a meeting with market leader Wonga, the Archbishop said that the Church of England wants to "compete" it out of existence. Welby, who has served on the parliamentary Banking Standards Commission, said he wanted to create "credit unions that are both engaged in their communities and are much more professional”. There are also plans to encourage church members to volunteer at credit unions.

Read more about this in the Guardian

  • 24 July 2013: Monsignor Leo Cushley appointed as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh

The new archbishop succeeds Cardinal Keith O’Brien who stepped down in February after admitting inappropriate sexual conduct. Mgr Cushley has worked in the Vatican’s diplomatic team and is currently head of the English language section of the Vatican’s secretariat of state. The 52 year old will now return to his native Scotland after 20 years abroad. The ordination will take place in September.

Read more about the new Archbishop in The Scotsman

  • 23 May 2013: Murder of British soldier sparks anti-Muslim attacks

On 22 May 2013 a British soldier was murdered in Woolwich in South London by two men armed with knives and cleavers shouting “Allahu Akhbar”.The identity of one of the suspects is 28 year old Michael Olumide Adebolajo, a British born man of Nigerian origin, who converted to Islam from Christianity ten years ago. Counter-terrorism officers and the security services are examining Adebolajo’s links to the extremist group Al-Mujaharoun, which was banned after the 7 July 2005 terrorist attacks in London.
Spokespeople for the major Muslim organizations in Britain, have been quick to condemn the violence. Prime Minister David Cameron described the attack as “not just an attack on Britain”, but as a “ betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country”.
The killing has nevertheless led to strong reactions from far-right groups such as the group anti-Muslim English Defence League, who held a rally in Woolwich, shouting anti-Muslim slogans and throwing bottles at the police hours after the murder. Two men have been arrested after separate attacks on mosques. In less than 24 hours the number of supporters of the English Defence League’s (EDL) facebook page grew from around 25,000 to over 75,000.

More details of the killing can be found on the BBC. To read a discussion of the anti-Muslim reactions and implications for community relations see the Guardian.

  • 2 May 2013: Majority of religious people In the UK support assisted suicide

A new poll finds overwhelming support for assisted suicide for the terminally ill among Anglicans, Catholics, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews and the nonreligious in Britain. British law currently prohibits assisted suicide.
The online survey of 4,437 people in January, commissioned for the Westminster Faith Debates (WFD), shows that 72 percent of members of the established Church of England and 56 percent of Roman Catholics support assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Baptists and Muslims are the only groups where the majority oppose changes to the law.
The survey asked respondents whether “people with incurable diseases have the right to ask close friends or relatives to help them commit suicide, without those friends or relatives risking prosecution.”

More information about the survey can be found at BRIN and Huffington Post.

  • 24 April 2013: Catholic midwives win right to object over abortion planning in Scotland

Two Roman Catholic midwives have won the right to refuse to help with any abortion procedures or planning after an appeal court ruling in Scotland. Mary Doogan, 58, and Concepta Wood, 52, who worked as labour ward co-ordinators in Glasgow, consciously object to helping with abortions in any way. The ruling could have wider implications for the National Health Service and the rights of other health staff who oppose abortions on religious grounds.

The midwives had lost a previous case against the board on the grounds that their work did not involve actually carrying out abortions. However, the appeal court in Edinburgh on Wednesday overturned that ruling and said the Abortion Act 1967 gave medical staff protection against taking part in any part of the process of abortions and treatment for that purpose on religious and conscience grounds.

More information about this case can be found in the Guardian.
More information about the survey can be found at BRIN and Huffington Post.

  • 25 February 2013: Cardinal Keith O’Brien has resigned as the head of the Scottish Catholic church after accusations of "inappropriate acts" towards fellow priests

The UK’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, resigned as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh after three priests and one former priest accused him of inappropriate behaviour towards them, just a week before Pope Benedict’s resignation. The former cardinal has denied the allegations of behaviour stretching back 30 years. The 75 year old was due to retire next month, but his early resignation means he will not take part in the election of a successor to Pope Benedict. This will leave Britain unrepresented in the process, as O’Brien was the only cardinal in the British Catholic churches with a vote in the conclave. O’Brien has been an outspoken critic of gay rights and the legalisation of same-sex marriage Colin Macfarlane, the director of the gay rights group, Stonewall Scotland, called for a full inquiry into the claims against the former cardinal.

Read more in the Guardian

  • 5 February 2013: New government legislation to allow same-sex marriage was passed in the House of Commons

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, will also allow civil partners to convert their partnership to a marriage and enable married people to change their legal gender without having to end their union. The overwhelming majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament voted for the new legislation, but the Conservative party was split down the middle, with 136 opposing and 127 supporting the bill. The bill was considered a bold move from Prime Minister David Cameron as it exposed deep divisions in the Conservative party and among its voters. The Church of England and Roman Catholic Church wrote a letter to the MPs, expressing concern over the legal protection of religious individuals and organisations with conscientious objections to same-sex marriage. Justin Welby, the new archbishop of Canterbury, similarly opposed the bill on his first day in the post.

Read more about this in the Huffington Post and the Guardian

  • 3 february 2013: Pork DNA found in halal pies

Amidst the unrolling scandal of horse-meat traces in food labelled as beef products, pork DNA was also discovered in “halal-certified beef” pastry products delivered to UK prisons. McColgan’s Quality Foods Limited, based in Northern Ireland was the source of "the very small number of halal savoury beef pastry products," according to food distributor 3663, who conducted the tests suspecting the products might contain horsemeat. Eating pork is forbidded in Islamic law, and a halal certification is an official guarantee that the food product is prepared according to Islamic dietary laws. The products have now been withdrawn from circulation.

Read more at the BBC

  • 1 February 2013: Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams debated the value of religion

Speaking at the Cambridge Union debating society, Professor Dawkins described religion as "redundant and irrelevant" argued that religion hindered scientific endeavour by "peddling false explanations". Former archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams offered a counter-argument, saying that religion undoubtedly had a place in the 21st century and that the issue was not whether it should exist, but what our attitude towards it should be. In his address he argued that community building and compassion was at the heart of all religion, and that "The notion that religious commitment can be purely a private matter is one that runs against the grain of religious history."

Read more about this in the Telegraph

  • 25 January 2013: Muslim patrollers arrested in London

Five men between 17 and 29 claiming to be Islamic vigilantes have been arrested in London after tormenting members of the public. The series of arrests were made after films were posted on YouTube featuring a gang harassing passers-by in east London on the weekend of 12 and 13 January. The harassment included homophobic abuse.

Read more about this in the Huffington Post

  • 15 January 2013: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that a British Christian employee suffered religious discrimination at work

Four cases of British Christians who claimed to have been victims of religious discrimination at the workplace were taken to the ECHR. Nadia Eweda (59), who worked for British Airways was prohibited from wearing a cross necklace because it was not part of the uniform. Former nurse Shirley Chaplin (56) was also asked not to display her cross necklace by her NHS employers in Exeter, on the grounds that the necklace breached health and safety guidelines. Relationship counsellor Gary McFarlane (51) was sacked by his employer, Relate Avon, after saying he objected to giving sex therapy guidance to same-sex couples. Marriage registrar Lillian Ladele, who worked for a London borough Council, was disciplined when she refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.

The ECHR ruled in favour of Mrs Eweda, arguing that her rights had been violated under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that her faith should be respected over the employer’s wish to display a religiously neutral corporate image. All the other three cases were rejected. The case of Mrs Chaplin was dismissed on the grounds that health and safety for the hospital’s patients and staff should have priority.In the cases of Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele, the Court said it was more important there should be no discrimination against gay people than it was that they should be able to behave in accordance with their religious beliefs at work. The ruling will signal that there is a need for a reasonable accommodation when staff want to wear a cross at work.

Read more about the four cases at the BBC

  • 14 January 2013: New book exposing Church of Scientology will not be on sale in the UK due to libel laws

Lawrence Wright’s book “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief” goes on sale in the US and the rest of Europe this week, but not in Britain. Under English and Welsh law the burden of proof in defamation cases rests exclusively on the defendant, which means that if the Church decided to sue the publisher the legal costs would be up to 140 times higher than international norms. Transworld’s decision not to publish was based on the legal advice that the book’s content was "not robust enough for the UK market”.

Read more about this in the Guardian

  • 7 january 2013:

A woman in Cardiff who beat her son to death for failing to learn parts of the Koran has been jailed for life, with an order to serve a minimum of 17 years. Sara Ege’s seven-year-old son Yaseen died in July 2010 from internal injuries. Yaseen had been the victim of prolonged abuse, and was beaten often with a wooden pestle after failing in his Koran studies. After his death, the mother set fire to his body to hide the evidence, but it was quickly found he was dead before the fire began.

Read more about the case in the Huffington Post

  • 7 january 2013: Britain’s first “atheist church”, The Sunday Assembly, held its first meeting on 6 January gathering at a former church in North London

The initiative came from comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, and has the pastoral aims of provoking kindness and encouraging people to volunteer in their local community.
With the tag line ’live better, help often, wonder more’ the brainchild has the pastoral aims of provoking kindness and encouraging people to volunteer in their local community. The assembly has come under criticism by both religious and nonreligious for imitating a religious service by holding the meeting in an old church and following a format of songs interspersed by reading and addresses.

Read more about this in the Huffington Post

D 27 December 2013    AIngrid Storm

2012

11 December 2012: Census data shows decline in Christian population.
The release of results from the 2001 census for England and Wales on religion led to media debates about compositional (...)

  • 11 December 2012: Census data shows decline in Christian population.

The release of results from the 2001 census for England and Wales on religion led to media debates about compositional changes in religion and ethnicity. Christianity is still by far the largest group; 59% (33.2 million), but has declined since 2001 when 72% (37.3 million) said they were Christian. The second largest response category was no religion at 25.1%, which increased 10 percentage points since 2001. The largest minority religion was Islam at 4.8%, which has also increased considerably from 3.0% 2001. Over 240,000 people highlighted an ’other religion’ on their census form - including 176,632 Jedi Knights. The question wording has been criticised for overestimating the number of religious people, and there have been campaigns by the Humanist association to make more people state “no religion”. The number of religious people is still higher than in nationally representative surveys where the question is worded differently.

Read more about the census results in the Guardian.

  • 07 December 2012: Churches and other Religious organisations to host same-sex weddings.

Churches and other Religious organisations will be able to host same-sex weddings under new legislation to be unveiled next week. The Prime Minister David Cameron is supporting a compromise that allows gay marriages to be held in places of worship, but does not oblige religious organisations to hold same-sex weddings. The main churches in the UK oppose the reform, but some faiths, including the Quakers, Unitarians and liberal Judaism, support it and have said they would like to conduct the ceremonies. Civil partnership will still remain an option for gay couples.

Read more about this in the Guardian.

  • 05 December 2012: Mega-mosque plans rejected in East London.

The Tablighi Jamaat group’s plan to build a 9,000-capacity venue in West Ham, east London, was rejected by members of Newham Borough Council at a planning meeting. If permission had been granted, the mosque would have become one of the biggest Islamic centres in Western Europe. The council rejected the plans on the grounds that the proposed mosque was too big and would have an impact on traffic and important historic buildings nearby.

Read more about this in the Huffington Post.

  • 05 December 2012: University Christian group changes position concerning female speakers.

A university Christian union that came under attack for not allowing women to teach at its main meetings has now said it will allow both sexes to preach at all events. An internal email from Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) revealed women could not teach at its weekly meetings, and could only teach in some other settings with a husband. The union has now released a statement saying it would now allow women to teach at all its events. The controversy emerged soon after the unpopular decision by the Church of England not to allow female bishops, which has sparked debates about the role of women in Christian organisations in Britain.

Read more about this in the Guardian.

  • 04 December 2012: The UK Scout Association is considering an alternative oath for atheists.

The 105-year-old movement for children is launching a consultation to see if members would back a Scout Promise for those who feel unable to pledge a "duty to God". Alternative versions of the oath already exist for the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist faiths, but this is the first time such an adaptation has been considered. The initiative follows complaints from the National Secular Society in March this year that atheist children were being excluded or having to lie to join the movement.

Read more about this at the BBC.

  • 21 November 2012: The general synod of the Church of England has voted narrowly against the appointment of women as bishops.

The measure was passed by the synod’s houses of bishops and clergy but was rejected by the House of Laity. It needed two-thirds majorities in each of the synod’s three houses, and the votes were 4 for and three against with two abstentions in the House of Bishops, 148 for and 45 against in the House of Clergy, and 132 for and 74 against in the House of Laity. Supporters vowed to continue their campaign but it could be five years before a similar vote can be held.

Read more at the BBC.

  • 16 November 2012: A Christian demoted for his opposition to gay marriage has won a legal case against his employer.

Adrian Smith lost his managerial position at the Trafford Housing Trust, had his salary cut by 40%, after posting in February on Facebook last year that gay weddings in churches were "an equality too far". The comments were not visible to the general public, and were posted outside work time, but the trust said he broke its code of conduct by expressing religious or political views which might upset co-workers. Smith said the trust acted unlawfully in demoting him, and Mr Justice Briggs ruled in his favour at the high court on Friday.

Read more in the Guardian.

  • 08 November 2012: The Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby, was named as the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

The 56-year-old bishop will become the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and the nominal leader of 77 million Anglicans worldwide. He replaces Rowan Williams, who steps down next month after 10 years in the post. Popular and media reactions have been mixed. His privileged background and education at Eton and Cambridge has drawn much comment, as has his earlier career in the oil industry. Bishop Welby is a conservative, known to oppose gay marriage but he supports the ordination of women as bishops.

Read more about Bishop Welby in the Independent and procedures for appointment at the website of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

  • 18 October 2012: The first private clinic to offer abortions to women in Northern Ireland

The first private clinic to offer abortions to women in Northern Ireland has opened, but an anti-abortion group has already called for it to be shut down. In Northern Ireland medical abortions can be carried out only within the first 9 weeks of pregnancy, and only in cases where continuing the pregnancy would have a serious, permanent or long-term effect on the physical or mental health of the woman. The new Belfast clinic offers treatments within the law. These are already available on the National Health Service. In the rest of the UK the abortion limit is 24 weeks, and in 2011 over 1000 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England and Wales for terminations. 40 protesters from a range of religious denominations held up placards outside the new Marie Stopes Clinic on the opening day, and an anti-abortion group has called for it to be shut down.

Read more about the opening and protest on the BBC

  • 11 October 2012: The BBC’s news coverage of religion is to be the subject of an independent review.

Accusations of left-wing and liberal bias in coverage of issues concerning religion, particularly Christianity and Islam, as well as other controversial topics like immigration and the European Union, has led to concerns about the impartiality of the BBC’s news coverage. The independent review will be led by former ITV Chief Executive Stuart Pebble, and published in 2013.

  • Read more about the critiques and the review in the Guardian.

  • 06 October 2012: The archbishop of Canterbury steps down at the end of the year

The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, steps down at the end of the year, and the Crown Nominations Commission have met to put two names forward as his successor. The rules for the CNC state that a successful candidate must secure a majority of two-thirds when the CNC votes, i.e. at least 11 votes, and so far the commission have not reached a conclusion on who the two candidates should be. The nineteen members of the commission consist of three bishops, five priests and eleven laypeople, four women and fifteen men. The archbishop of Cantebury is leader of the Church of England and symbolic head of the Anglican communion. His role also holds a number of other functions. He is the bishop in Kent, he sits in the house of Lords and chairs the Synod and other church meetings in England. If the Queen should die it is he who will crown her successor, and he has a role in national religious seremonies and interfaith dialogue internationally.

Read more about this in the Guardian and the Church Times.

  • 17 September 2012: A public consultation launched by the government’s fertility regulator.

A public consultation about controversial new medical procedures to avoid serious genetic diseases resulting from mitochondrial mutations has been launched by the government’s fertility regulator. The proposed new techniques produce IVF embryos that carry DNA from both parents as well as mitochondrial DNA from a healthy female donor. British law currently prohibits such genetic modification of embryos, but the legislation may be rewritten as early as next year after a parliamentary debate that will be informed by the public consultation.

Read more about this in the Guardian

  • 12 September 2012: discrimination against same-sex couples for adoption

The adoption agency Catholic Care has made a fourth appeal to permit discrimination against same-sex couples, challenging the Charity Commission’s refusal in a case that began in 2008. The charity relies on funding from the church, and claims that if it is forced to allow same-sex couples to adopt its child beneficiaries, it will lose so much donor support that it will be unable to continue providing the adoption service at all. The Charity Commission has stated that allowing Catholic Care to restrict its services to heterosexual couples would set a dangerous precedent for other adoption agencies.

Read more about the case in Third Sector News

  • 16 August 2012: A man with locked in syndrome lost his High Court case to allow doctors to end his life without fear of prosecution.

Tony Nicklinson, from Wiltshire, suffered a stroke in 2005 which left him paralysed. He could only communicate by blinking and described his life as a "living nightmare". Mr Nicklinson said he would appeal against the decision, but died only six days later after refusing food and water. Nicklinson, was the public face of the right-to die movement and had a twitter account used for campaigns and interviews with the press. The case went further than previous challenges to the law in England and Wales on assisted suicide and murder. Another man with locked in syndrome, known only as Martin, also lost his case to end his life with medical help, and is continuing to campaign for the right to assisted suicide.

Read about Tony Nicklinson’s case on the BBC and Martin in the Guardian

D 29 December 2012    AIngrid Storm

2009

November 2009: Environmental beliefs and assisted suicide
In November 2009, an employment tribunal ruled that environmental beliefs were entitled to the same protection at work as religious (...)

  • November 2009: Environmental beliefs and assisted suicide

In November 2009, an employment tribunal ruled that environmental beliefs were entitled to the same protection at work as religious beliefs. Mr Justice Michael Burton decided that: ’A belief in man-made climate change, and the alleged resulting moral imperatives, is capable if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations’. He outlined five tests to determine whether a philosophical belief could come under employment regulations on religious discrimination: the belief must be genuinely held; it must be a belief and not an opinion or view based on the present state of information available; it must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life; it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

See: the Guardian.

.

  • 23 September 2009: prosecution for assisting suicide

The Director of Public Prosecutions issued a consultation document, drafting guidelines listing the factors by which the Crown Prosecution Service should judge whether to prosecute those assisting suicide. A final policy document is due in early 2010. The press release including a link to the consultation document is available here

  • 30 July 2009: assisted suicide

Campaigner Debbie Purdy won a historic judgement from the House of Lords regarding assisted suicide. Five law lords unanimously ruled that the DPP should publish guidelines as to when prosecutions would and would not be pursued against those helping others end their lives. The offence of assisted suicide remains, under the Suicide Act 1961, but the ruling aims to clarify the situation for those involved in ’compassionate’ assisted suicide.

See: the Guardian; the judgement ([2009] UKHL 45) is available on Hansard.

D 2 December 2009    ASiobhan McAndrew

2008

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 (...)

  • 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.

D 30 September 2008    ASiobhan McAndrew

2007

September 2007: A secular school in Britain
Paul Kelley, head of Monkseaton High School in Tyneside, released details of his attempt to reform religious education at his school. The school has (...)

  • September 2007: A secular school in Britain

Paul Kelley, head of Monkseaton High School in Tyneside, released details of his attempt to reform religious education at his school. The school has trust status, which gives it greater operational autonomy. However, it is a requirement of the Education Act 1944 that all state school pupils take part in a daily act of worship of a broadly Christian nature – except for a small minority of schools of different faiths – while the Education Reform Act 1988 requires that RE is taught as part of the national curriculum. Kelley hoped to set up the first ’secular school’ in Britain, teaching about religion as well as other world views, but officials at the Department of Education and Skills advised that although this might be popular it would be politically impossible.

  • 29 July 2007: slaughter of a sacred bullock

Shambo, a sacred bullock cared for by a Hindu residential community in Wales, was slaughtered by government vets after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. The monks had fought a strenuous campaign to save the bullock, which received widespread media coverage.

  • 23 July 2007: purity ring at school

Queen’s Bench Division. Regina (Playfoot) (a Child) v Millais School Governing Body. Before Mr Michael Supperstone, QC. Judgment July 16, 2007.
A sixteen year-old girl took a case to the High Court of Justice alleging that her school had violated her rights under Articles Nine (Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion) and Fourteen (Prohibition of Discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights, incorporated into UK Law by the Human Rights Act. It was ruled, however, that her school’s refusal to allow one of its pupils to wear a purity ring, demonstrating her commitment to sexual abstinence prior to marriage, did not infringe her right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. If there were a perceived obligation to act in a specific way, the school was obliged to make due allowance. However, the claimant was under no obligation to wear the ring and, in his Lordship’s judgement, the act of wearing it was not intimately linked to the belief in chastity before marriage.

See ’Purity ring is not intimately linked to religious belief; Law report’, The Times (23 July, 2007), p. 49.

  • 13 June 2007: Religious discrimination and Harry Potter

A classroom teaching assistant who refused to let a child read a Harry Potter book lost a claim for religious discrimination and constructive dismissal. Sariya Allan, a born-again Christian, claimed that Durand Primary School in Stockwell, South London, had maligned her religion following a parent’s complaint. Following resignation she claimed £50,000 in compensation, which was rejected by Croydon Employment Tribunal.

See ’Teacher loses Harry Potter book claim’, The Times (June 13, 2007), p. 27.

  • March 2007: non-religious services for funerals

The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) reported that more than 30,000 funerals in Britain in 2006 were non-religious. In 1996 this had been ’virtually unheard of’, but one in 20 families now rejects a church service in favour of a celebration of life.
Besides personal belief, part of the appeal may also be the increased cost of conventional funerals. Britons spent £1.3 billion on funerals in 2006, with the average cost having risen by 61 per cent from £2,048 in 2000 to £3,307 in 2006.
See C. McClatchey, ’Rise of the funerals that leave out God. Religion is sidelined in thousands of ’celebration of life’ ceremonies each year’, Sunday Telegraph (March 4, 2007).

  • 7 March 2007: The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007

The Equality Act 2006, which received Royal Assent in February 2006, included the power to make Regulations prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services, in education and in the execution of public functions. These were laid in Parliament on 7 March, and came into force on 30 April 2007, at the same time as Part 2 of the Equality Act. (Part 2 provides parallel protection against discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of people’s religion or belief.)

D 25 October 2007    ASiobhan McAndrew

2006

11 December 2006: Rate relief for Church of Scientology
The Sunday Telegraph reports, through documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that the Church of Scientology is (...)

  • 11 December 2006: Rate relief for Church of Scientology

The Sunday Telegraph reports, through documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that the Church of Scientology is benefiting from relief from the national non-domestic rate (local business rates) to the tune of £274,000 per year. This mandatory relief of 80 per cent of the tax liable is intended for charities or buildings used as places of public worship. However Scientology, on the Charity Commission’s decision of 1999, does not qualify as an eligible religion. The City of London, the responsible local authority, twice refused rate relief before granting the relief, after the Church of Scientology claimed that a similar decision had been overturned in Sweden.

  • December 2006: Last rites and consent of patient

The Roman Catholic church lobbied the Scottish Executive to request a change to the Data Protection Act 1998, so that priests are informed of the religious identity of patients for the purpose of giving ’last rites’ to the seriously ill. At present chaplains are unaware of the religious identity of patients unless explicitly informed beforehand by the patient. In 2002 the Information Commissioner had ruled that, as chaplains were not registered healthcare professionals, they could only access data with the ’explicit, informed consent of a patient’.

See ’Dying patients denied last rites’, Sunday Times (Dec. 3, 2006), p. 8.

  • 8 November 2006: Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland)

The Government laid down the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 to come into force from 1st January 2007. Some church and political groups in Northern Ireland have objected.

  • November 2006: Charities Act 2006

The Charities Act 2006 received Royal Assent. Its implementation over 2006-2010 will have implications for the charitable status of religious organisations.
The Charity Commission hitherto defined a religion for purposes of charity law as requiring a belief in, and Judeo-Christian-style worship of, a Supreme Being. Such a test would be inappropriate in light of the clarification of the definition of religion in the Charities Act 2006, and would result in religious discrimination. More than 400 groups registered as religious organisations, including 144 Buddhist organizations, several groups of Jains, Hindu groups, Christian Scientists, Unitarian Churches and Quakers, did not meet the previous definition of religion test used by the Charity Commission, for example when it ruled that the Church of Scientology was not a religion in 1999.
Section 2(3) of the Charities Act 2006 states that:
"religion includes:
(i) a religion which involves a belief in more than one god, and
(ii) a religion which does not involve a belief in a god"
Additional draft supplementary guidance provided by the Charity Commission states that a religion must incorporate
- a personal creator god or gods;
- a supreme being; or
- a divine or transcendental being, entity or principle’.
The Charities Act 2006 also removes the presumption of public benefit for associations concerned with poverty, education or religion. Religious organisations will henceforth be required to demonstrate that they provide public benefit to be recognised as charities.
In addition, religious organisations previously exempted from registering as charities will now have to register if their income is over £100,000 a year. This requirement will apply to individual congregations of religious denominations.

  • 27 October 2006: clergy wins the right to claim unfair dismissal

The clergy has won the right to claim unfair dismissal, with full rights as workers recognised. Ministers of religion were hitherto regarded by the courts as appointed to a holy office and not as employees. A London pastor had claimed unfair dismissal after losing his post, which the church resisted on the grounds that he was not an employee. An employment tribunal rejected this: ’the relationship between church and minister has many of the characteristics of a contract of employment’. The union Amicus (now known as Unite) has 2,500 members among faith workers, and had been campaigning for such rights for over a decade.

’Churchman wins right to fight dismissal’, The Guardian, (28 October, 2006), p. 7.

  • 26 October 2006: legislation for faith-based schools to admit pupils from other or no faiths abandoned

Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Education and Skills, abandoned plans for legislation allowing local authorities to require faith-based schools to admit at least 25 per cent of pupils from other or no faiths. Catholic and Jewish organisations had been most vocal in opposing the proposal. The Church of England had agreed to introduce the quota voluntarily but advised that it might be impractical for other denominations. Instead, it was announced that church schools would have a ’duty to promote community cohesion’.

See ’Johnson backtracks in row over faith schools. Minister will not go to law to enforce 25% quotas: religious groups welcome change of heart after talks’. The Guardian (Oct. 27, 2006), p. 5.

  • 6 October 2006: face-veil

Jack Straw, Leader of the House of Commons, stated in a radio interview that he would prefer that nobody wore the face-veil, or niqab. He said that while he did not wish to be prescriptive, he believed that wearing the veil was ’bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult’, and that he made it clear to women attending his constituency consultations that he would prefer them to remove the facial garment, because face-to-face conversations were of ’greater value’.

  • 29 September 2006: case against the Gay Police Association

The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring a case against the Gay Police Association under ’hate crimes’ legislation. The GPA placed an advert in a ’Diversity’ supplement of The Independent in June 2006 to coincide with London’s Europride event, which stated: ’In the last 12 months the Gay Police Association has recorded a 74 per cent increase in homophobic incidents, where the sole or primary motivating factor was the religious belief of the perpetrator’. It depicted the Bible in a pool of blood. The Metropolitan Police, following complaints by Christian groups, began an investigation that was run by the unit set up to investigate hate crimes such as homophobia.

See ’No charges for advert which blamed homophobic attacks on religion’, The Independent (Sept. 29, 2006).

  • 18 June 2006: Recognition of Paganism

It was announced that paganism would receive official recognition at St Andrew’s University, Scotland’s oldest university. The decision was made in order to comply with equal rights legislation. In return for providing space for festivals and access to the Mansefield Building, predominantly used by faith and cultural societies, the Pagan Society had to agree not to use incantations or spells which might be viewed as harmful to followers of other faiths; raise spirits or to call up dark forces; or engage in ritual nudity.

  • 5 May 2006: Minister for Women and Equality

Ruth Kelly was appointed Minister for Women and Equality as well as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, which raised debate about her ability to defend women’s and gay minority rights, given her devout Catholic views (and possible though unconfirmed membership of Opus Dei).

  • January 2006: Government defeated on religious hatred legislation

The government of Tony Blair suffered a Parliamentary defeat on 31 January 2006 on legislation to make inciting religious hatred a criminal offence. It was only the second time since Labour came to power in 1997 that the government had lost a vote in the House of Commons.
As members of a religious rather than an ethnic minority, Muslims are not protected by existing laws outlawing racial abuse. The effort to extend protection to religious groups has been controversial because of concerns that unfavourable comment on religious beliefs or practices by comedians, critics or evangelists might result in a prison sentence. The opponents of the new law had therefore inserted an amendment limiting the scope of the offence to ‘threatening’ (and not merely insulting or abusive) language. Another amendment requires prosecutors to prove that the accused intended to incite hatred. The government’s attempt to overturn these amendments was defeated and the bill will therefore become law in its altered form.

For further details, see on the BBC website the BBC reports on the vote, the background and legal implications, and BBC.

D 28 December 2006    ADavid Voas ASiobhan McAndrew

2005

April 2005 : Islamic dress at school
The Court of Appeals has ruled that a Muslim schoolgirl who was not permitted to wear the jilbab (a full-length gown) was excluded from school unlawfully. It (...)

  • April 2005 : Islamic dress at school

The Court of Appeals has ruled that a Muslim schoolgirl who was not permitted to wear the jilbab (a full-length gown) was excluded from school unlawfully. It overturned the judgment of a lower court in favour of the school.
The student, Shabina Begum, attended a school where the headteacher and 79% of the students are Muslim. Girls are permitted to wear the shalwar kameez (trousers and tunic) and headscarves if desired as their school uniform. The school authorities did not allow Ms Begum to wear the jilbab, which she wished to do for religious reasons.
The Court accepted that the school had a right to require a uniform, but held that it had failed to consider the human rights claimed by the student that are also recognised in law. Indeed, the school was required to justify any interference with those rights, which it had failed to do. "Instead, it started from the premise that its uniform policy was there to be obeyed: if the claimant did not like it, she could go to a different school," Lord Justice Brooke said. He added, however: "Nothing in this judgment should be taken as meaning that it would be impossible for the school to justify its stance if it were to reconsider its uniform policy in the light of this judgement and were to determine not to alter it in any significant respect."
The decision was based on article 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

  • March 2005: The death of the Pope

The death of Pope John Paul II had an unexpected impact in the UK. The Prime Minister delayed announcing the date of the general election as a mark of respect, and Prince Charles (the heir to the throne) postponed his marriage in order to attend the funeral. The Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican church, reportedly decided that he would go to Rome rather than officiate at the royal nuptials. None of these signs of deference to a Pope would have been made in the past, and some commentators have announced "the strange death of Protestant England" (Mark Almond, The Guardian) or alternatively, "It’s as if the Reformation had never happened" (Martin Kettle, The Guardian).

D 6 June 2005    ADavid Voas

2004

December 2004 : A Sikh "Rushdie affair"
A conflict has developed between traditional Sikhs and secular ideals of free expression. On the evening of Saturday 18 December hundreds of Sikhs (...)

  • December 2004 : A Sikh "Rushdie affair"

A conflict has developed between traditional Sikhs and secular ideals of free expression. On the evening of Saturday 18 December hundreds of Sikhs demonstrated outside a Birmingham theatre against a play, Behzti, that contains scenes of sexual abuse and murder in a gurdwara (Sikh temple). Several police officers were hurt and property was damaged. The theatre subsequently decided to cancel further performances of the play – whose author Gurpreet Bhatti is herself a Sikh – on the grounds that further protests posed a threat to public safety.
Other artists have condemned the actions as a form of censorship. There are proposals to stage the play at a different theatre.

For further information see: BBC news Dec. 20 or BBC news Dec. 23.

  • Autumn 2004 : Law on blasphemy

The Home Secretary has proposed the repeal of current law on blasphemy as part of a legislative programme to include the enactment of a law on incitement to religious hatred.
Government advisers believe that the current law on blasphemy achieves the worst of both worlds: for Muslims it appears to show that the English deck is stacked in Christianity’s favour, and yet the law is effectively a dead letter; it is almost inconceivable that a case could even be brought today, much less successfully prosecuted.

  • July 2004 : Incitement to religious hatred

The government has previously tried and failed to create a new offence of incitement to religious hatred, making it an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting language with the intention or likelihood that religious hatred would be stirred up. In July 2004, however, the Home Secretary announced that he would reintroduce a bill.

Existing law protects people from disadvantage based on race. The definition of ethnicity used, however, has been held to include certain religious group (Jews, Sikhs) but not others (Muslims, Rastafarians). "Blunkett wants incitement to religious hatred to be a criminal offence, as incitement to racial hatred – that is, inciting hatred of those defined by “colour, race, nationality or racial or ethnic origins” – already is. Unlike most other crimes, prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred can only be brought by the attorney-general, the British government’s most senior legal adviser, or with his consent. I dislike the injection of a political element into the decision to prosecute; but if this were applied equally to religious incitement it would at least give some reassurance to those … who fear that free speech is endangered by David Blunkett’s proposals." (Geoffrey Bindman [a prominent lawyer]).

The proposal has been criticised on the grounds that it may lead to prosecution of serious criticism or humorous references to religion. The positions of different interest groups on this issue are not always what one might expect, however. For example, the following statement comes from a conservative Christian group: "It is still difficult to see how legislation could be framed in a way that would not restrict freedom of speech, criminalise those who critique religion, leave the Attorney General and the Courts to adjudicate on religious belief, and introduce a culture of malicious and trivial litigation. … It is crucial that in attempting to respond to the uncertainties caused by international terrorism governments do not trample on the basic civil and religious human rights enshrined in United Nations and European Convention declarations. In fact, there is much evidence to suggest the real threat to religious communities comes not from other religions but from militant secularists who wish to devalue and marginalise the contribution of religious groups to society. Before moving too far down the legislative road we urge Mr Blunkett to consider this vitally important issue in the broadest democratic context involving wide-ranging consultation, extensive legal and practical consideration and relevant open debate." (Don Horrocks, Evangelical Alliance, 7 July 2004).

  • June 2004: Regulation of animal slaughter

In June 2003 the Farm Animal Welfare Council (an independent advisory body funded by the government) produced a report on the slaughter of red meat animals (e.g. cattle, sheep, pigs). It recommended that the exemption under which kosher and halal butchers have been able to slaughter animals without stunning them first be removed. The Council argued that animals suffer significantly unless they are stunned, which is also the view taken by the Royal Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and most other welfare groups. Jewish and Muslim organisations have protested that their methods of slaughter are humane and actually cause less suffering to animals.The government prepared a response to the report and put it out for consultation, with a closing date for responses of 24 June 2004. A final report is expected around the end of 2004.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA); response to recommendations

Recommendation 61 (Para 201):

Council considers that slaughter without pre-stunning is unacceptable and that the Government should repeal the current exemption.

Response: Do not accept. The Government accepts the report’s conclusion that, on balance, animals (especially cattle) slaughtered without pre-stunning are likely to experience very significant pain and distress. We also recognise that certain religious groups in the UK are constrained from eating meat from animals that are stunned at the time of slaughter. If the UK were to ban the slaughter of animals without prior stunning, it will mean that these groups will need to import meat from other countries. There will thus be no improvement in total animal welfare.

Furthermore, the Government believes that a ban on religious slaughter would not be consistent with the provision of the Human Rights Act 1998 which implements the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it is clear from the public reaction following the publication of the FAWC report that there are strong feelings against slaughter without prior stunning, on the part of consumer and animal welfare groups. We are therefore concerned that meat from animals which have not been stunned before slaughter, and which is unsuitable for the halal and kosher markets, can find its way onto the ordinary meat market, and that consumers are not able to identify it at the point of sale. Government would wish consumer and industry groups to consider whether this problem could be successfully addressed through a voluntary system of labelling, bearing in mind that an early EU agreement on meat labelling according to slaughter method is unlikely.

Recommendation 62 (Para 203):

Until the current exemption which permits slaughter without pre-stunning is repealed, Council recommends that any animal not stunned before slaughter should receive an immediate post-cut stun.

Response: Partially accept. The Government sees merit in this recommendation for cattle but not for sheep, as we would expect all sheep to have lost consciousness within 5 to 10 seconds. However, we are mindful of likely opposition to this from some religious groups and would intend to seek progress on a voluntary basis.

D 30 December 2004    ADavid Voas

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