Sunday, 10 May 2009

Religious Symbols v Religious Beliefs

The judgement in the case of Ghai v Newcastle City Council [2009] EWHC 978 (Admin) is now available. Mr Ghai wanted the right to have his body cremated in the open air once he died. His claim that the Cremation Act 2003 was unlawful under Article 9 of the European Convention was, not surprisingly, rejected but I do have a lot of sympathy for him. He wasn't asking for the right to have a Cremation in his back garden but that the law should allow there to be places in Britain where open air cremations can be held. It wasn't an unreasonable request and it is sad that the Government hasn't done anything to meet it.

At the same time as Mr Ghai was losing the strange case of
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha v Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago [2009] UKPC 17 was being reprted. In this case the Privy Council agreed with an earlier decision of the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago that a particular award "The Trinity Cross of the Order of Trinity" was discriminatory to Muslims and Hindus under the provisions of sections 4(b), (d) and (h) of the Trinidadian Constitution on the basis that the Cross is a Christian Symbol. The name "Trinidad" is of course itself Christian being the Spanish for "Trinity" and therefore a reference to the Holy Trinity. The case could conceivably have implications for British awards such as the Victoria Cross, George Cross, Military Cross etc. Interestingly both the Trinidadian Court and the Privy Council took a very different approach to that of the US Courts in the case of American Atheists Inc v Utah Highway Patrol Association (US District Court November 20 2007) where an attempt to have memorial crosses declared "unconstitutional" because they represented a Christian Symbol was rejected, the court holding that the cross was not an exclusively religious symbol

What these two cases have in common is that they both seem to lack any sense of proportion. Allowing
properly organised outdoor Cremation would not be difficult or cause problesm but it remains banned, meanwhile the fact that historically awards have, for centuries, been expressed as Crosses, the VC, MC, DFC etc is ignored. What next will the Royal Navy have to change the White Ensign because it bears the St George Cross ? In my view cases like this do nothing but harm to Community relationships.

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