Tuesday, 28 January 2014

On the Buses - Get Over it !

The case of  Core Issues Trust v Transport for London [2014] EWCA Civ 34  shows once again how incapable our Courts seem to be about understanding the concept of freedom of speech.

The case itself involved a the Christian Charity "Core Issues Trust" which wanted to run a series of Ads on London Buses promoting a Gay Cure Therapy.  This would have involved the words 
    www.anglican-mainstream.net www.core-issues.org"

which was a response to the adverts previously run on London Buses by the Gay Rights Charity Stonewall which read 

Both ads were clearly using confrontational language though the Core Issues Trust could at least claim to be responding to the confrontational language of Stonewall.

In an earlier hearing Core Issues Trust v Transport for London [2013] EWHC 651 (Admin) the Core Issues Trust had lost an application for Judicial Review but got that decision overturned in the Court of Appeal because they were able to prove that the decision by TfL to refuse the Ad was influenced by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson when the original evidence to the High Court was that Boris Johnson was not involved in the decision.

However the Victory in the Court of Appeal may well prove pointless since the Court of Appeal agreed that TfL did have the right to ban the ads on the basis that 

84:......... The restrictions are justified in view of the prominence of the advertisements and the fact that they would be seen by, and cause offence to, large numbers of the public in central London. Moreover, for those who are gay, the advertisements would be liable to interfere with the right to respect for their private life under article 8(1).

85: Secondly, I agree with the judge that the advertisement is liable to encourage homophobic views and homophobia places gays at risk. 

So the Court  accepted that it is legitimate to ban adverts because some people "might" be offended by them.  So much for free speech.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Ecclesiastical Bouncers

 This is a copy of an Article I had published in the January 10th 2014 issue of The Catholic Herald

The recent incident in which a naked woman from the protest group Femen interrupted Midnight Mass in Cologne Cathedral, by rushing on to the Altar with the words “I am God” written across her torso, is only the most recent example of an increasing tendency for “protesters” of various types to use churches as the setting for their provocations. 

Femen have been involved in a number of protests in churches in Europe and on their website they have threatened retaliation the Catholic Church if the “protester” is prosecuted under the German criminal code, which makes it a criminal offence to disrupt a religious service.

The “protester” in Cologne was, quite rightly, arrested and is facing prosecution. This highlights the double standards of many in western Europe who criticised the prison sentences passed on the Russian Pussy Riot group while ignoring the fact that the group’s actions would have been illegal in any civilised country. 

So far no Catholic church in Britain has experienced a Femen or Pussy Riot style disruption but reality would suggest that such an incident is only a matter of time. When same-sex marriage is legalised later this year it is likely that some gay rights activists will decide to organise a protest against the fact that such marriages will not be taking place in Catholic Churches. Disruption of a marriage
service in a church is a distinct possibility. 

Besides protesters, churches may have to deal with other types of disruption. A little-reported incident took place in September 2013 when St Elizabeth and St Helens church in Coventry was invaded by a group which demanded that the worshippers leave because the church was being closed down under a court order. The “court” in question is the so-called “International Tribunal for Crimes of Church and State” which has absolutely no legal standing either nationally or internationally and which is the creation of a former United Church of Canada minister Kevin Annett. 

Despite having no legal status the tribunal has solemnly sentenced Benedict XVI to 25 years imprisonment and ordered the closure and sequestration of the Catholic Church internationally.  It has also “sentenced” Queen Elizabeth II and the Canadian prime minister to imprisonment and announced the dissolution of the government of Canada. Even though this “tribunal” is clearly operating at the furthest limits of lunacy some people were sufficiently influenced by it to cause disruption to the worshippers in St Elizabeth church, resulting in the police being called to deal with a group claiming to be international law enforcement officers executing a court order.

These and similar incidents are likely to increase in the future and it would be sensible if dioceses and individual parishes started thinking now how they would deal with such situations. The first point is to be quite clear that disruption of church services is a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860. In addition, it is likely to constitute a religiously aggravated public order offence. Any incidents should be reported to the police with a view to prosecutions being brought. People who disrupt churches are trespassers who can be physically removed from church buildings using reasonable force.   

That said, churches need to think about the practical way such situations are dealt with and to have some form of contingency plan that avoids an undignified and possibly dangerous struggle on the altar between a priest and an enraged  protester shouting at the top of their lungs and possibly willing to accuse anyone who touches them of indecent assault.  

It may be sensible for local priests to speak to their local police commanders or community officers to discuss the possibility of such situations arising and to get their advice. Many parishes will have parishioners who have had experience in the Armed Forces or police who might be willing to be the “designated person” to remove disrupters in the most efficient manner should that ever become necessary. Female parishioners who have Forces or police experience could be particularly useful “ecclesiastical bouncers” to deal with disruptive females.

After all, Christ did use physical force to drive out those who were disrupting the holiness of the Temple in Jerusalem and perhaps we could do with a restoration of the idea of muscular Christianity as an antidote to the notion of “gentle Jesus meek and mild” which has so emasculated Christians in the last few decades.  

In any event, dioceses should start thinking about the possibility of disruptions now cathedrals are particularly liable to be the targets for protests because of their public and media profile, and it makes no sense for a bishop or priest to wait until a naked protester is hurtling across the altar before thinking: “How should I deal with this situation?”

Guide to Religious Freedom and the Law

In January 2014 the Catholic Truth Society published a booklet “Guide to ReligiousFreedom and the Law” written by me. 

It is described as “an attempt to provide information on aspects of the law relating to Religious Freedom and Discrimination which are of specific interest to Catholic Institutions and individual Catholics in particular the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010.”

The CTS booklet is not of course my first book on the subject however the CTS booklet is far more specific and targeted than most law books. “There are a large number of Books and official guidance covering Discrimination and Human Rights Law but the specific exemptions in the law which apply to religious organisations are often covered in a cursory way or relegated to footnotes. In this CTS book by contrast the exemptions and how they apply is the main area of interest”

By concentrating on what are the specific legal issues applying to the Catholic Church, Catholic Organisations and individual Catholics I hope that the booklet will be easier for non lawyers to understand.  In any law book there is a balance to be struck, cover everything and the book becomes unreadable except to the professionals, do not cover everything and someone is bound to complain that you have ignored an issue that they consider important. I can only hope I have struck the right balance with this Guide.

One of the areas of Equality Law I am very conscious I did not cover is Disability Discrimination. This is not because the subject is unimportant but because of the need to keep the booklet focused. I have however provided weblinks to organisations representing Blind and Deaf Catholics who can provide help and guidance in this area

Though the booklet is aimed primarily at a Catholic Audience I hope that it will also be of assistance to members of other religions and Churches since many of the legal questions are common across religious boundaries. 

Though the booklet is designed to give legal advice it is not my intention to encourage litigation or 'I know my rights' confrontations. Recourse to the law and to litigation should be the very last resort of any individual. If at all possible disputes are best resolved through patient discussion away from the glare of publicity.

I take the opportunity provided by the Booklet to to explode one persistent legal myth. Despite frequent assertions to the contrary there is absolutely NO legal rule which prevents a Roman Catholic becoming Prime Minister or indeed any form of Government Minister. There are of course legal restrictions preventing the Monarch from being, or being married to, a Roman Catholic but there are no other restrictions preventing Catholics playing their full part in Society.  I refer those who are interested to my earlier posts on the subject A Catholic Monarch ? The Act of Settlement 1701 and Myths about Catholics and the Monarchy

The booklet deals with the legal situation in England, Wales and Scotland but not Northern Ireland which, for historical reasons, has its own legislation dealing with Religious Discrimination. It is available from CTS priced £2.50