News | Thu, 27 Jun 2013
New research into the number of hospital chaplains being paid for out of the National Health Service funds shows that since 2009 the number of chaplains has remained largely the same.
Opinion | Tue, 25 Jun 2013
The influential international business magazine The Economist carried an editorial last week calling for the Church of England to be disestablished – and for the influence of religion on the state to be reduced. The editorial said:
Most European countries that are Christian by inheritance have seen a decline in traditional religious observance. Many have opened their doors to devout Muslim minorities. The result is often a confrontation between Christianity and other faiths, and between religious values and secular ones.
In Britain's case, three extra complications exist. First, more than anywhere except perhaps America, the law is an integral part of Britain's sense of self. The Magna Carta is a founding myth. When defining "Britishness", the rule of law and fair play are among the first things Britons mention to pollsters. So suggestions that entire groups should be able to contract out of bits of the law do not go down well. The archbishop did not say quite that, of course. He is right to point out that plenty of legal matters are already decided outside the established court system, some of them in sharia tribunals. But he called the principle of one law for everybody "a bit of a danger".
A second strain in relations between church and state in Britain is that the government relies increasingly on religious and other "third-sector" groups to help it deliver social services. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has highlighted conflicts between religious aims and public policy. Some state-financed "faith schools", for example, are wrongly allowed to take religion into account when selecting their students (and headmasters). State-subsidised Catholic adoption agencies have refused to place children with gay adoptive parents, though that sort of discrimination is now illegal. The trend in these and other cases is to reduce the room for large-scale religious exceptionalism.
The third complication is that England has an established church whose authority has been intertwined with the states for five centuries. The powers of the Church of England have been trimmed and privileges have been granted to other religions. Yet although a mere 1.7 million people attend its services regularly, its special status endures. The queen is its head; Parliament approves its prayer book; and only last year did the prime minister relinquish the right to select its bishops, 25 of whom sit in the House of Lords.
Faced with this anomaly, the archbishop proposes to expand the privileges of all religions. It would be better instead to curtail the entitlements of his one. It makes no sense in a pluralistic society to give one church special status. Nor does it make sense, in a largely secular country, to give special status to all faiths. The point of democracies is that the public arena is open to all groups—religious, humanist or football fans. The quality of the argument, not the quality of the access to power, is what matters. And citizens, not theocrats, choose.
Disestablishing the Church of England does not mean that it has no public role to play. America's founders said there should be no established religion, but religion shapes public debate to a degree that many in Europe find incomprehensible. Let religion compete in the marketplace for ideas, not seek shelter behind special privileges. One law for all, with its enlightened insistence on tolerance and free speech, is not a "bit of a danger". It is what underwrites the ability of all religions to go about their business unhindered.
In response, Simon Barrow, co-founder of the Christian "think-tank" Ekklesia wrote: "Establishment creates an environment of privilege and exemption, but removing this does not automatically solve all other issues about religion. Rather, it provides a clearer distinction between voluntary association within civil society, in which faith groups have an important role to play alongside others, and formal mechanisms of governance which should aim at a level playing field for all - irrespective of differences of belief."
The think-tank also says that the Church contradicts its own founder's rejection of power and prestige when it seeks to secure special advantage for itself, and that this brings discredit on its message and standing in wider society.
"Defending something unfair and anachronistic in the interests of self-preservation hardly constitutes a positive witness to a Gospel which is supposed to be about the power of love overcoming the love of power," says Barrow.
At the Church Times, the case for keeping the Church established was made by the Canon Librarian of Norwich Cathedral, Rev. Peter Doll. He argued that an established Church was all that stood between justice and tyranny. He wrote:
It is not healthy for nation states to have ultimate religious claims over their citizens. States exist to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens, not to betray them to unaccountable corporate control. Such ultimate claims leave the people with no protection from tyranny, whether of a democratic majority, a messianic dictator, or a multina-tional monopoly.
A state with an Established Church, however, has built into its DNA the conviction that human society and government must be subject to a higher-than-human authority. The Church and the monarch whom it anoints have the responsibility to witness to the eternal judgement of God's coming Kingdom of love, mercy, and peace, in its churches and in the corridors of power. If barely fettered public and private powers collude, what other protection do we have?
Meanwhile, a constitutional committee in the Welsh Assembly has said that even though the Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920 there are still areas of law where the break was not complete. It was an examination of the constitutional implications of gay marriage that uncovered remaining church-state anomalies. Ministers at first suggested an opt-out given to the Church of England also applied to Wales.
That was later altered, but even if the Church in Wales decided to allow same-sex marriage in future, the Lord Chancellor would still need to introduce the change. There are also issues related to burials.
The Church in Wales cannot close disused burial grounds, a power enjoyed by the Church of England. The committee said this discouraged the Church in Wales from opening much-needed new cemeteries.
David Melding, the Conservative AM, who chairs the constitutional and legislative affairs committee, said: "I was astonished that an Act of Parliament from the Edwardian era had come back to haunt us. I certainly had assumed that the Church in Wales was disestablished – that's an axiom of modern Welsh history. But apparently not. In two important areas — there may be more that we don't know about — disestablishment is far from complete in Wales, in marriage policy and also in the law in relation to burial."
The Church in Wales admitted the situation was "unusual" but had not considered whether it should seek to change its status in relation to the marriage law. The Church said it was invited to participate in the committee's discussions on its legal status. It said the Archbishop of Wales Dr Barry Morgan was pleased to give evidence during a "constructive and interesting exploration of the issues involved".
"The Church in Wales has not considered the issue of whether it should seek to change its status in relation to the marriage law," it said in a statement. "However, it would welcome any assistance the Welsh government is able to provide in easing the burden on our parishes of maintaining our burial grounds, which are open to all in the community, and to disused burial grounds which cannot be handed over to local authorities as in England."
This illustrates what a complicated business disestablishing a state church can be. The entanglements that have accumulated over centuries can go very deep, and even if there is a will to do it (which there isn't in England), it can still take decades to complete the process.
Terry Sanderson is president of the National Secular Society
See also: Time to disestablish the Church of England? by NSS council member Norman Bonney
Opinion | Mon, 24 Jun 2013
Teaching science to Jewish children is not the enemy of knowledge but the prerequisite of it, declared the Jewish Chronicle in its leader last week. It was a reference to disquiet among Charedi Jews about the GCSE science curriculum. Michael Gove, the education secretary, wishes to put greater emphasis on teaching evolution. Charedi educators maintain that this "flies in the face of their ethos and culture".
Mr Gove's plans are admirable and so is the Jewish Chronicle's insistence that Jewish children be taught proper science. To grasp science, children (and adults) need to understand the evolution of species by natural selection and random mutation. Evolution isn't an obscure detail but the foundation of knowledge of the living world.
That shouldn't need to be argued. But the notable characteristic of the objection is that it isn't about science at all: it's framed as the protection of a culture. Leave us, say the devout, to hold dear what is sacred to us.
With its echoes of conscience and religious liberty, it's a more seductive case than the pseudo-scientific objections to Darwinism. That's what makes it dangerous. Of all peoples, the Jews, as a historically persecuted minority, have an interest in ensuring that religious groups not be given legal privileges and exemptions. Freedom, including religious liberty, requires a civic culture that is resolutely secular.
What people believe is irrelevant to their rights and duties.
Thomas Jefferson formulated this principle definitively. A free society requires that there be no religious test for civic office or participation. Drawing inspiration from John Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration, he nonetheless faulted Locke for urging the extension of religious freedom only to Dissenters. "Where he stopped short," wrote Jefferson, "we may go on."
This needs restating in this country's public life, as some religious leaders appear not to understand it. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has complained of a campaign "to get rid of Christianity as a public faith".
There is no organised campaign to suppress public expressions of religion. The issue at stake is whether there should be a civic role for religion. And there should not be, because what people believe about first and last things is irrelevant to their rights and their obligations.
Only when that Enlightenment principle became established could Jews emerge decisively from the ghetto.
This principle is being tested today in Israel. Some 15,000 Charedim protested noisily in Jerusalem last month against plans to make them do national service. They are at the moment exempt from military service while they are at yeshiva. Secular Israelis oppose the exemption and their case is unassailable. We all have multiple ties of loyalty and affiliation but, in a democratic society, there is an overriding identity, which is common citizenship under the rule of law. Religious liberty itself depends on that culture.
Common citizenship extends to children, too - not rights to vote or drink or drive, but entitlement to the fruits of education. It doesn't just impoverish children's minds but also violates their rights to deny them access to scientific knowledge owing to parental and communal objections.
Some years ago, Steven Weinberg, the Nobel Laureate in physics, explained his admiration for Israel. Zionism represented, he wrote, "the intrusion… of a democratic, scientifically sophisticated, secular culture into a part of the world that for centuries had been despotic, technically backward, and obsessed with religion". These are principles that Jews have advanced. They in turn serve as guarantors of the survival, freedom and flourishing of the Jewish people.
Oliver Kamm is a leader writer for The Times. This article first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.
News | Tue, 25 Jun 2013
An audience of around 600 people, including a number of MPs, gathered at the Houses of parliament to hear keynote speaker Professor John Lennox from Oxford University describe atheism as a "delusion" and a "fairy tale for those afraid of the light".
Opinion | Thu, 27 Jun 2013
The EU Foreign Affairs Council this week adopted a report with 71 Guidelines to promote the right to freedom of religion and belief worldwide.
Below are some choice quotes from it that should give pause to those Christians who imagine that they have special rights and privileges because of their "traditional role" in the nation:
- "All persons have the right to manifest their religion or belief either individually or in community with others and in public or private in worship, observance, practice and teaching, without fear of intimidation, discrimination, violence or attack. Persons who change or leave their religion or belief, as well as persons holding non-theistic or atheistic beliefs should be equally protected, as well as people who do not profess any religion or belief."
- "The right to freedom of religion or belief, as enshrined in relevant international standards, does not include the right to have a religion or a belief that is free from criticism or ridicule."
- "There are no rights exclusive to holders of any particular religion or belief: all rights whether in regard to the freedom to believe or to manifest one's religion or belief, are universal and are to be respected on a non-discriminatory basis."
- "The EU does not consider the merits of the different religions or beliefs, or the lack thereof, but ensures that the right to believe or not to believe is upheld. The EU is impartial and is not aligned with any specific religion or belief."
- "Coercion to change, recant or reveal one's religion or belief is equally prohibited. Holding or not holding a religion or belief is an absolute right and may not be limited under any circumstances".
- "Freedom of religion or belief protects every human being's right to believe or to hold an atheistic or non-theistic belief, and to change religion or belief. It does not protect a religion or belief as such. Freedom of religion or belief applies to individuals, as right-holders, who may exercise this right either individually or in community with others and in public or private. Its exercise may thus also have a collective aspect. This includes rights for communities to perform "acts integral to the conduct by religious groups of their basic affairs". These rights include, but are not limited to, legal personality and non-interference in internal affairs, including the right to establish and maintain freely accessible places of worship or assembly, the freedom to select and train leaders or the right to carry out social, cultural, educational and charitable activities."
- "Certain practices associated with the manifestation of a religion or belief, or perceived as such, may constitute violations of international human rights standards. The right to freedom of religion or belief is sometimes invoked to justify such violations. The EU firmly opposes such justification, whilst remaining fully committed to the robust protection and promotion of freedom of religion or belief in all parts of the world. Violations often affect women, members of religious minorities, as well as persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In dealing with possible violations, use will be made of existing EU human rights guidelines, notably the guidelines on the promotion and protection of rights of the child, on violence against woman and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them, on human rights defenders, on torture and on the death penalty, as well as the forthcoming EU guidelines on the enjoyment of all human rights by LGBTI persons, and on freedom of expression on line and off line."
- "When critical comments are expressed about religions or beliefs and such expression is perceived by adherents as being so offensive that it may result in violence towards or by adherents, then:
- If there is a prima facie case that this expression constitutes hate speech, i.e. falls within the strict scope of article 20 paragraph 2 of the ICCPR (which prohibits any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence), the EU will denounce it, and demand that it be investigated and tried by an independent judge".
- "If this expression does not rise to the level of incitement prohibited under article 20 of the ICCPR, and is thus an exercise of free speech, the EU will:
- Resist any calls or attempts for the criminalisation of such speech;
- Individually or jointly with States or regional organisations, endeavour to issue statements calling for no violence to be committed and condemning any violence committed in reaction to such speech;
- Encourage state and other influential actors, whether religious or non-religious, to speak out and to engage in constructive public debate concerning what they see as offensive speech, condemning any form of violence;
- Recall that the most effective way to combat a perceived offense from the exercise of freedom of expression is the use of freedom of expression itself. Freedom of expression applies online as well as offline. New forms of media as well as information and communications technology provide those who feel offended by criticism or rejection of their religion or belief with the tools to instantly exercise their right of reply.
- "In any case, the EU will recall, when appropriate, that the right to freedom of religion or belief, as enshrined in relevant international standards, does not include the right to have a religion or a belief that is free from criticism or ridicule".
- "International human rights law protects individuals, not Religion or Belief per se. Protecting a religion or belief may not be used to justify or condone a restriction or violation of a human right exercised by individuals alone or in community with others."
- "States have a duty to protect all persons within their jurisdiction from direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, whatever the reasons advanced for such discrimination. This includes the duty to rescind discriminatory legislation, implement legislation that protects freedom of religion or belief, and halt official practices that cause discrimination, as well as to protect people from discrimination by state and other influential actors, whether religious or non-religious."
- "Individuals, have the right to decide for themselves whether and how they wish to manifest their religion or belief. Limitations to this freedom have to be strictly interpreted. Manifestation of one's religion or belief can take many forms. This includes the right of children to learn about the faith/belief of their parents, and the right of parents to teach their children in the tenets of their religion or belief. It also includes the right to peacefully share one's religion or belief with others, without being subject to the approval of the state or another religious community. Any limitation on freedom of religion or belief, including regarding places of worship and state registration of religious or belief groups, must be exceptional and in compliance with international standards."
- "Frequent restrictions by States include the denial of legal personality to religious and belief communities, the denial of access to places of worship/meeting and burial, the punishment of unregistered religious activity with exorbitant fines or prison terms, or the requirement for children from religious and belief minorities to receive confessional education in the beliefs of the majority. Several states do not recognize the right to conscientious objection to military service as part of the legitimate exercise of the freedom of religion or belief, deriving from article 18 of the ICCPR25."
News | Tue, 25 Jun 2013
This week saw the conclusion of the House of Lords' debate on the equal marriage bill in its committee stage. All those amendments seeking to wreck the bill were either defeated or withdrawn.
News | Tue, 25 Jun 2013
One of the Vatican's most senior clerics has used a visit to Scotland to reinforce the message that the provision of faith schools by the state is a fundamental right of Catholic families.
News | Thu, 27 Jun 2013
The Maltese Prime Minister had a meeting with the Pope at the Vatican this week, with the intention of negotiating changes to the concordat between Malta and the Holy See.
NSS Speaks Out
The BBC's research into hospital chaplains resulted in the NSS being quoted in MSN and on the Press Association wire. Terry Sanderson, Stephen Evans, and Keith Porteous Wood did radio interviews on BBC London, Leeds, Northampton, York and Tees.
Terry Sanderson was quoted in an Independent story about the fall in the number of religious marriages
Quotes of the Week
"There is no organised campaign to suppress public expressions of religion. The issue at stake is whether there should be a civic role for religion. And there should not be, because what people believe about first and last things is irrelevant to their rights and their obligations."
"Religious institutions should pass the plate to the faithful, not the taxpayers,"
(Rev. Barry W. Lynn, of Americans United for Separation of Church and State)
"The established or traditional religious position has so often been flat-out wrong that there's no reason to treat the religious perspective as authoritative."
(Alistair Denvil, PolicyMic)