Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Goodbye and God Bless

I began this Blog back in 2008 when Religious Discrimination laws were just being introduced in Britain and I have enjoyed using it to explore the developments in the Law, however I have decided that this is the right time to say goodbye and to make my last posting.

I have always used this Blog to report on, and to discuss, cases as they occur but over the last year or so the number of cases has reduced even if their importance has increased. 

Unfortunately a Blog which is intermittent, as this one has become, is increasingly less and less valuable to its readers.  Blogs really need to be updated daily if possible but weekly as a minimum and I have been unable to do that. 

Rather than running a poor Blog I prefer to say goodbye now.  However I strongly recommend my readers to check out the excellent Blog 

run by that learned and pleasant duo, Frank Cranmer and David Pocklington.

Very Best Wishes to you all

Neil Addison

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Vatican City - Trial of Józef Wesołowski

The trial has commenced within the Vatican of, former Archbishop Józef Wesołowski on charges of the sexual abuse of minors.  

The trial has aroused questions as to why such trials have not taken place before and why it is taking place in the Vatican rather than in the Dominican Republic where the offences are alleged to have occured.  A complicating factor also leading to questions is the fact that this is the second trial of Wesolowski to have taken place in the Vatican on the same allegations.  The following is an attempt to provide a simple explanation of the legal issues and systems involved

The reason why the trial is taking place in the Vatican rather than the Dominican Republic is the fact that Wesolowski was the Papal Nuncio in the Dominican Republic at the time of the alleged offences and therefore he is protected by Diplomatic Immunity in respect of any offences he may have committed there.

A Papal Nuncio is an ambassador sent by the Pope to a country which has diplomatic relations with the Holy See and therefore a Nununcio has the same rights and privileges as any othe Ambassador.  Diplomatic Immunity is an old concept but is currently covered internationally by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 which has been ratified by virtually every country in the world.  Under the Convention Diplomatic Immunity is unambiguously protected

Article 29:  The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. 

Article 31:  A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State.

Therefore as a diplomat the normal rule is that Weslowski could neither be arrested, questioned nor prosecuted in the Dominican Republic regarding his alleged crimes.  However as a diplomat of the Holy See he is subject to the criminal law of the Vatican State and that criminal law extends to prosecuting him for offences committed abroad whilst acting as Nuncio.  Diplomatic Immunity protects a diplomat from the criminal law of the country he is sent to but it does not protect him from the criminal law of his own country which is why Weslowski is able to be prosecuted in the Vatican.  

Had Weslowski not been a Papal Nuncio but instead been an ordinary Bishop in the Dominican Republic then the question of Diplomatic Immunity would not have arisen and he could have been tried there, "Ordinary" Bishops, Cardinals etc who are not Papal Nuncios are not protected by Diplomatic Immunity.  On the same basis since they are not citizens of the Vatican State they are not be subject to the laws of the Vatican State except when they are physically there.  

The Investigation of the allegations against Weolowski will have been carried out by the Vatican Gendarmerie who are all former officers in one of the Italian Police Forces and who will follow standard Italian Police procedures.  The trial itself will similarly be conducted according to the rules of Italian criminal procedure which have been adopted by the Vatican since the Lateran Treaties of 1929.  The Judges in the case will be lay Judges trained in Italian civil law. If convicted Wesolowki can be sentenced to imprisonment and under exisiting agreements between Italy and the Vatican he could serve any prison sentence in an Italian prison.

The trial Wesolowski has already faced, was a separate trial under Catholic Canon Law which is a code that applies to Catholic Priests and Ecclesiastics throughout the World and which relates to whether they have broken the rules which apply to them as Priests.  An offence under Canon Law may well not be an offence under the Civil Law of the country in which it took place and the penalities under Canon Law are purely religious penalties.  In the case of Wesolowski the penalty imposed by the Canon Law trial was that he was stripped of his priestly status and laicised, in England often referred to as "being de-frocked".  

As already mentioned if  Wesolowski had not been a Nuncio and was not covered by Diplomatic Immunity he would have been dealt with by the criminal courts of the Dominican Republic and not the courts of the Vatican; however he would still have had to be dealt with separately under Canon Law to decide if he should be laicised 

There are therefore 2 separate trials because there are 2 separate legal systems involved.  There is the Vatican State legal system, which is specific to Wesolowski and the small number of priests and Ecclesistics who are Vatican State citizens, and there is the Canon law system which applies to all Catholic Priests everywhere

Saturday, 27 June 2015

US Supreme Court - Same Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom


 Continuing my analysis of the US Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges I am going to look at how the decison and the dissenting judgments deal with the implications of the judgment so far as Religious Freedom is concerned

Under the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution the "free exercise" of religion is explicitly protected

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"

The question of a possible conflict between Religious Rights and the newly discovered (invented !) "right" to same-sex marriage was touched on in the majority judgment at P27

"Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing samesex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex. "

This reassurance is however given short shrift in the dissenting judgments

Roberts P27 

"Today’s decision,for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty. Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution. Amdt. 1. Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for religious practice. The majority’s decision imposing samesex marriage cannot, of course, create any such accommodations. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. Ante, at 27. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses. Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. See Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 1, at 36–38. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today"

Thomas P14 

"Aside from undermining the political processes that protect our liberty, the majority’s decision threatens the religious liberty our Nation has long sought to protect.....In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well. Id., at 7. Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples. The majority appears unmoved by that inevitability. It makes only a weak gesture toward religious liberty in a single paragraph, ante, at 27. And even that gesture indicates a misunderstanding of religious liberty in our Nation’s tradition. Religious liberty is about more than just the protection for “religious organizations and persons . . . as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.” Ibid.
Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally, and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice. Although our Constitution provides some protection against such governmental restrictions on religious practices, the People have long elected to afford broader protections than this Court’s constitutional precedents mandate. Had the majority allowed the definition of marriage to be left to the political process—as the Constitution
requires—the People could have considered the religious liberty implications of deviating from the traditional definition as part of their deliberative process. Instead, the majority’s decision short-circuits that process, with potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty"

Alito P7 

"Perhaps recognizing how its reasoning may be used, the majority attempts, toward the end of its opinion, to reassure those who oppose same-sex marriage that their rights of conscience will be protected. Ante, at 26–27. We will soon see whether this proves to be true. I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.
The system of federalism established by our Constitution provides a way for people with different beliefs to live together in a single nation. If the issue of same-sex marriage had been left to the people of the States, it is likely that some States would recognize same-sex marriage and others would not. It is also possible that some States would tie recognition to protection for conscience rights. The majority today makes that impossible. By imposing its own views on the entire country, the majority facilitates the marginalization of the many Americans who have traditional ideas"

So what are the consequences of the decision for Religous Freedom in the US since, as the dissenters have pointed out, the consequences are far greater than they would be if Same-Sex Marriage had become law through legislative chage rather than by becoming a, hitherto unseen, Constitutional "right".  Legislation can be fine tuned and amended in a way that an unwritten "right" cannot be.  The judgment creating the "right" to same-sex marriage sets up a conflict of "rights" namely the explicit protection of religious rights set out in the 1st Amendment as against the, fairly unspecified, "right" to same-sex marriage which was "discovered" by the 5 Judges who gave the Obergefell decision.  A conflict of rights is a recipe for years of expensive and acrimonious litigation because how can the Courts or legislatures protect the Constitutional rights of a Religious Organisation that actively disagrees with another Constitutional Right?

In Bob Jones University v. United States case 461 U.S. 574 (1983) the US Supreme Court decided that the Ist Amendment did not prevent the US Government removing the religious tax exemptions given to the religious Bob Jones University because the University prohibited Inter-racial dating.  It would be therefore be a relatively easy and lawful step for tax exemptions to be similarly removed from religions that did not endorse same-sex relationships; as Chief Justice Roberts in P27 of his dissent pointed out that this possibility has already been considered and accepted by the US Government.

A more sinister, but equally possible, secenario would be the passing of legislation seizing the property of Religious Organisations which disagree with same-sex marriage.  This could be legally justified on the basis that the teachings and practices of such religions opposed a "right" enshrined within the US Constitution.  

In the 19th Century when the Mormon Church practiced Polygamy the US Congress passed a series of increasingly draconian anti Mormon acts culminating in the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act which dissolved the MormonChurch and directed the confiscation by the federal government of all church properties. The legality and constitutionality of this act was endorsed by the US Supreme Court in Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. United States 136 U.S. 1 (1890). on the basis that the beliefs and practices of the Mormon Church were incompatible with US Law

Could the same thing happen to Religious Organisations which disagree with same-sex marriage ?  The legal precedents are there and certainly on the part of same-sex marriage advocates the will is there to attack and if possible destroy religion, in particular Christianity. Religions in the US are therefore facing a dangerous future where their freedom is far from guaranteed. 

US Supreme Court - Same Sex Marriage Judgment

In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges the US Supreme Court has decided that the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution obliges all 50 States to recognise and licence Same-Sex Marriages.  

The decision was by a majority of 5 - 4 so a very close split for such a fundamental decision with implications that go far beyond the issue of Same-Sex marriage itself.  The majority decision was given by Justice Kennedy, supported by Ginsberg J, Breyer J, Sotomayor J, and Kagan J.  There was a dissenting Judgment given by Chief Justice Roberts, supported by Scalia J and Thomas J,  a dissent by Justice Scalia J supported by Thomas J, another by Thomas J supported by Scalia J and last, but very definately not least a dissent by Alito J supported by Scalia J and Thomas J.

There are specific references in all these judgments regarding its implications for Religious Freedom which I will deal with in a separate Blog but from my point of view the dissenting judgments are more intellectually and legally coherent than the warm words, feel good, fatuousness of the majority Judgment so I will concentrate on them.  

The dissenting judgment by Thomas J is particularly interesting in that he attacks what is in effect the new notion of "rights" within western society namely a demand that the Government and State "do something" rather than the historical view that "liberty" involves freedom "from" the state "doing something" and he points out that the decision of the Court is actually subversive and undermining of "Liberty" and "freedom" which are (or should be) the cornerstones of the US Constitution. 

P7: "In the American legal tradition, liberty has long been understood as individual freedom from governmental action, not as a right to a particular governmental entitlement. .....P8 “[T]he common idea of liberty is merely negative, and is only the absence of restraint.” ....... "Petitioners cannot claim, under the most plausible definition of “liberty,” that they have been imprisoned or physically restrained by the States for participating in same-sex relationships. To the contrary, they have been able to cohabitate and raise their children in peace" ........P10 "Petitioners claim that as a matter of “liberty,” they are entitled to access privileges and benefits that exist solely because of the government. They want, for example, to receive the State’s imprimatur on their marriages—on state issued marriage licenses, death certificates, or other official forms. And they want to receive various monetary benefits, including reduced inheritance taxes upon the death of a spouse, compensation if a spouse dies as a result of a work-related injury, or loss of consortium damages in tort suits. But receiving governmental recognition and benefits has nothing to do with any understanding of “liberty” that the Framers [of the US Constitution] would have recognized."

The Dissent by Scalia J is astonishing in the vehemence of his language excoriating 5 of his colleagues.  Like all of the dissenters he makes it clear that his objection is not to Same-Sex Marriage per se, his objection is to Same-Sex marriage being imposed on the entire United States by means of Judicial Decree

P1"The substance of today’s decree is not of immense personal importance to me. The law can recognize as marriage whatever sexual attachments and living arrangements it wishes, and can accord them favorable civil consequences, from tax treatment to rights of inheritance.Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about marriage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court"....... 

He contrasts the difference between a new idea, such as same-sex marriage coming into force as a result of legislative debate rather than through Judicial diktat P2" Until the courts put a stop to it, public debate over same-sex marriage displayed American democracy at its best. Individuals on both sides of the issue passionately, but respectfully, attempted to persuade their fellow citizens to accept their views. Americans considered the arguments and put the question to a vote. The electorates of 11 States, either directly or through their representatives, chose to expand the traditional definition of marriage. Many more decided not to. Win or lose, advocates for both sides continued pressing their cases, secure in the knowledge that an electoral loss can be negated by a later electoral win. That is exactly how our system of government is supposed to work." .....P4"But the Court ends this debate, in an opinion lacking even a thin veneer of law. Buried beneath the mummeries and straining-to-be-memorable passages of the opinion is a candid and startling assertion: No matter what it was the People ratified, the Fourteenth Amendment protects those rights that the Judiciary, in its “reasoned judgment,” thinks the Fourteenth Amendment ought to protect".........P6"The five Justices who compose today’s majority are entirely comfortable concluding that every State violated the Constitution for all of the 135 years between the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification and Massachusetts’ permitting of same-sex marriages in 2003. They have discovered in the Fourteenth Amendment a “fundamental right” overlooked by every person alive at the time of ratification, and almost everyone else in the time since."

Alito J makes a similar point regarding the fact that the Court is imposing on America a judgment which in a Democracy should be made by the elected representatives of the people.  
P6" The Members of this Court have the authority and the responsibility to interpret and apply the Constitution. Thus, if the Constitution contained a provision guaranteeing the right to marry a person of the same sex, it would be our duty to enforce that right. But the Constitution simply does not speak to the issue of same-sex marriage. In our system of government, ultimate sovereignty rests with the people, and the people have the right to control their own destiny. Any change on a question so fundamental should be made by the people through their elected officials.”

And he points out the long term implications of the way inwhich this decision has been arrived at and the future role of the Supreme Court P7"Today’s decision will also have a fundamental effect on this Court and its ability to uphold the rule of law. If a bare majority of Justices can invent a new right and impose that right on the rest of the country, the only real limit on what future majorities will be able to do is their own sense of what those with political power and cultural influence are willing to tolerate. Even enthusiastic supporters of same-sex marriage should worry about the scope of the power that today’s majority claims."

The Dissent by Chief Justice Roberts, is more restrained, as one might expect but for that reason is even more damning

P2 "Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be"....."Today, however, the Court takes the extraordinary step of ordering every State to license and recognize same-sex marriage. Many people will rejoice at this decision, and I begrudge none their celebration. But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening. Supporters of same-sex marriage have achieved considerable success persuading their fellow citizens—through the democratic process—to adopt their view. That ends today. Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept. The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment." ......

P3 "Understand well what this dissent is about: It is not about whether, in my judgment, the institution of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples. It is instead about whether, in our democratic republic, that decision should rest with the people acting through their elected representatives, or with five lawyers who happen to hold commissions authorizing them to resolve legal disputes according to law." 

Interestingly Chief Justice Roberts goes on to compare this decision by the Supreme Court to the infamous "Dred Scott" case where the decision of the then, pro-slavery, Supreme Court to extend the rights of slave owners throughout the entire United States including the Free States was a major factor leading to the subsequent American Civil War.

P11 "The need for restraint in administering the strong medicine of substantive due process is a lesson this Court has learned the hard way. The Court first applied substantive due process to strike down a statute in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393 (1857). There the Court invalidated the Missouri Compromise on the ground that legislation restricting the institution of slavery violated the implied rights of slaveholders. The Court relied on its own conception of liberty and property in doing so. ....... Dred Scott’s holding was overruled on the battlefields of
the Civil War and by constitutional amendment after Appomattox,"

The Chief Justice also dealt with the probability that the logic of the decision by the Supreme Court would lead to legal cases demanding Polygamy, Polyandry and Plural Marriage In terms of American legal history this was not a merely theoretical suggestion.  The legal definition of Marriage as being between 2 persons was laid down in the United States by the 1878 case of Reynolds v USA 98 U.S. 145 wchich involved the legality of Mormon Polygamy.  (See my Blog for 1 August 2013 on Mormon Polygamy and the Law)

P20 "One immediate question invited by the majority’s position is whether States may retain the definition of marriage as a union of two people. Cf. Brown v. Buhman, 947 F. Supp. 2d 1170 (Utah 2013), appeal pending, No. 14-4117 (CA10). Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective “two” in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one."

 And he, like the other dissenters gives a warning regarding the long term implications of the Courts decision

"P22 "The majority’s understanding of due process lays out a tantalizing vision of the future for Members of this Court: If an unvarying social institution enduring over all of recorded history cannot inhibit judicial policymaking, what can? But this approach is dangerous for the rule of law. The purpose of insisting that implied fundamental rights have roots in the history and tradition of our people is to ensure that when unelected judges strike down democratically enacted laws, they do so based on something more than their own beliefs. The Court today not only overlooks our country’s entire history and tradition but actively repudiates it, preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now"

Or as Scalia puts it more pointedly
P5"A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy."  
to which I, as a British rather than an American citizen, can only say "hear hear"

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Allah for Muslims Only ? - 3

Following my two earlier Blogs of 24 January 2015 and 23 June 2014 there has been a further case in Malaysia involving the question of whether Christians, and other non Muslims, are entitled to use the word "Allah" as the word signifying "God"

The Malaysian Court of Appeal has issued a judgment in an ongoing case involving CD's seized by Malaysian Customs Officers from the luggage of a Malaysian Christian, Ms Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill.  The CD's included ‘Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah’ (How to live in God’s Kingdom), ‘Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah’ (Right living in God’s Kingdom) and ‘Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah’ (True faith in God’s Kingdom) and therefore all used the word "Allah" to refer to "God" hence their seizure. 

The Court of Appeal itself is based on a fairly arcane point of law namely that the Customs Officer involved did not have the necessary legal authority to seize and keep these CD's which were seized in 2008. The decision therefore does seem to keep open the possibility that Government Officials in Malaysia, with the appropriate authority can still seize Christian CD's, Magazines, Bibles etc which refer to "God" as "Allah"   

The Malaysian Courts system has therefore not been in any hurry to decide the issues in this case indeed the fundamantal issue of principle is still not decided if indeed it ever will be. The earlier decision in the "Catholic Herald" case does show that the Malaysian Courts accept that the Government of Malaysia can restrict the use of the word "Allah" and that decision is likely to be used against Ms Ireland if she continues with her claim

So far I have not been able to find a transcript of the Judgment so this Blog is based on reports of the case at Lapido Media (an invaluable source of worldwide religious news), Malaysia University Legal News, and The Malaysia Star

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Ashers Bakery and the "Gay Cake"


Judgment has been delivered in the Northern Ireland case of  Lee v Ashers Baking Company [2015] NICty 2 (Court summary HERE).  The case considered whether it was illegal for Ashers to refuse to bake a cake which carried a logo saying "support gay marriage" along with a picture of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, and the logo of the organisation  'Queerspace'.  More background facts available HERE and a picture below of what Mr Lee wanted putting on the cake

Unlike many similar cases which involved Bakeries refusing to make a cake for a Same-Sex Marriage reception this case involved a Bakery being asked to bake a cake which explicitly endorsed the campaign to legalise Same-Sex Marriage in Northern Ireland.  The Company was run by a family who are devout Christians and who believe that Marriage is between a Man and a Woman

The case revolved around 2 separate legal issues namely whether the refusal to make the cake constituted Discrimination on the grounds of Sexual Orientation contrary to the  Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 and whether it constituted unlawful discrimination on the grounds of Political Opinion contrary to the  Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998.

Northern Ireland is unique in the UK for in making discrimination on the grounds of political opinion explicitly unlawful and this arises from the long history of sectarian division in Northern Ireland where religion, nationality and political opinion were so often synonymous with British/Unionist/Protestant identity facing Irish/Republican/Catholic identity.

Surprisingly in this case the Judge held that the refusal of Ashers to bake the cake constituted direct discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation simply on the basis that the buyer, a Mr Lee, happened to be Gay even though many supporters of Gay Marriage are heterosexual and similarly many Gay people are opposed to Gay Marriage.  As is usual in these cases the Judge paid lip service to the Ashers rights to Religious Freedom under Article 9 and then stated that the law overode those rights

Somewhat less surprisingly the Judge also decided that the refusal constituted discrimination on the grounds of political opinion.  Damages were assessed as a nominal figure of £500.

The case will undoubtedly be appealed but what does emerge from it is the complete intolerance of the "Equality" industry and the way in which Equality Law is being used to destroy individual freedom including the freedom of a Bakery company to decide what products it wants to make.  

We in Britain have just been celebrating the 70th anniversary of our victory in WW2 but frankly what are we celebrating ?, 'Freedom', but not if you run a Bakery it would seem.  

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

US Supreme Court - Same Sex Marriage arguments

In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges the US Supreme Court has been hearing final arguments regarding whether it should recognise Same-Sex Marriage as a "Right" under the US Constitution

The Court is considering 2 questions
(1)  “Does the 14th amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?”
(2)  “Does the 14th amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?”

The relevant part of the 14th Amendment says
"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

In addition to the 14th Amendment implicit in question(2) is Article IV, Section 1: of the US Constitution which says
"Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state."

The US Supreme Court website  provides transcripts of the legal argument and also audio recordings so you can read the legal argument on Question 1 here and Question 2 here:  Or you can listen to an audio recording of the legal argument on Question 1here: and Question 2 here.

The SCOTUSblog provides a link to the (numerous) briefs and Amicus Curiae submissions made in the case HERE: as does the website of the American Bar Association

A fundamental argument frequently made by those who want the US Supreme Court to make Same-Sex marriage a Constitutional Right is the suggestion that banning Same-Sex marriage is similar to the earlier bans on Interacial Marriage which existed in many of the Southern States until these were overturned in the case of Loving v Virginia in 388 U.S. 1 (1967)

Interestingly at the outset of the legal argument between the parties US Chief Justice Roberts put his finger at the difference between this case and the Loving case when he said
"Well, you say join in the institution [ie Marriage].  The argument on the other side is that they're seeking to redefine the institution.  Every definition that I looked up, prior to about a dozen years ago, defined marriage as unity between a man and a woman as husband and wife.  Obviously, if you succeed, that core definition will no longer be operable.......... you're not seeking to join the institution, you're seeking to change what the institution is.  The fundamental core of the institution is the opposite­sex relationship and you want to introduce into it a same­sex relationship"

Justice Kennedy similarly pointed the inherent problem of a decision of this significance being imposed on the United States by Judicial Fiat.
"This definition has been with us for millennia.  And it ­­ it's very difficult for the Court to say, oh, well, we ­­ we know better."

What the Supreme Court will decide is difficult to predict but my personal view is that it will answer Question (1): No, and Question (2): Yes, on the basis both of the 14th Amendment and the principle of reciprocity in Article 1V.  This answer will also avoid the danger of the Supreme Court being seen to impose its own subjective views and thereby overuling or sidelining the democratic process.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Religious Freedom and Education in Quebec - Loyola High School case

The Supreme Court of Canada has supported the Religious Freedom rights of a Catholic School in the Province of Quebec in a case which revolved around s2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms  which is the section that protects Religious Freedom in Canada

The case of  Loyola High School v. Quebec (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 12 (CanLII) was the culmination of a 5 year legal battle over the teaching of a compulsory curriculum on Ethics and Religious Culture as opposed to teaching the subject in conformity with the Catholic beliefs which were part of the inherent identity of the School

Since September 2008, as part of the mandatory core curriculum in schools across Quebec, the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports had required all schools in Quebec to teach a Program on Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC), which teaches about the beliefs and ethics of different world religions from a neutral and objective perspective.

 The stated objectives of the ERC Program are the “recognition of others” and the “pursuit of the common good” seeking to inculcate in students "openness to human rights, diversity and respect for others" (or to put it another way the usual meaningless PC claptrap which has inflitrated speech and political discourse in the English [and French] speaking world).

To fulfil these objectives, the ERC Program has three components: world religions and religious culture, ethics, and dialogue. The three components are intended to support and reinforce one another. The orientation of the Program is strictly secular and cultural and requires teachers to be objective and impartial. Teachers are not to advance the truth of a particular belief system or attempt to influence their students’ beliefs, but to foster awareness of diverse values, beliefs and cultures. 

The course was compulsory in Provincial state schools but under s. 22 of the Regulation  the Minister can grant private independent schools an exemption from the specific requirements of the ERC Program if the School provides an alternative program which is deemed to be “equivalent”. Loyola wrote to the Minister to request an exemption from the Program, proposing an alternative course to be taught from the perspective of Catholic beliefs and ethics. The Minister denied the request based on the fact that Loyola’s whole proposed alternative program was to be taught from a Catholic perspective. It was not, as a result, deemed to be “equivalent” to the ERC Program.

Loyola brought an application for judicial review of the Minister’s decision. Loyola High School c. Courchesne, 2010 QCCS 2631 (CanLII)  where the Superior Court decided that the Minister’s refusal of an exemption infringed Loyola’s right to religious freedom under the Charter, quashed the Minister’s decision, and ordered an exemption. On appeal Québec (Procureur général) c. Loyola High School, 2012 QCCA 2139 (CanLII)  the Quebec Court of Appeal  overuled the Superior Court and concluded that the Minister’s decision was reasonable and did not result in any breach of religious freedom. 

At the Supreme Court hearing Loyola modified its request to teach the whole ERC program from a Catholic perspective, and was prepared to teach about the doctrines and practices of other world religions neutrally but it still wanted to teach about the ethics of other religions from a Catholic perspective. The Minister’s position however remained the same namely that no part of the ERC program could be taught from a Catholic perspective.

The Supreme Court decided that the Minister’s decision requiring that all aspects of Loyola’s proposed program be taught from a neutral perspective, including the teaching of Catholicism, limited freedom of religion more than was necessary and as a result, it did not reflect a proportionate balancing and should be set aside. The appeal was allowed and the matter remitted to the Minister for reconsideration.

The court held para 79 
"it is the Minister’s decision as a whole that must reflect a proportionate and therefore reasonable balancing of the Charter protections and statutory objectives in issue.  It does not, in my respectful view, because it rests on the assumption that a confessional program cannot achieve the objectives of the ERC Program."

A particularly important point of principle relating to the rights of Religious Organisations, including religious schools, was dealt with in paras 90 -91

[90]  The Attorney General of Quebec contends that Loyola enjoys no such constitutional protection because it is not a natural person, but merely a legal person:  religious freedom protects sincerely held beliefs, and a corporation is capable of neither sincerity nor belief.  This raises the question of whether religious organizations are protected by the guarantee of freedom of religion.

[91]  In our view, Loyola may rely on the guarantee of freedom of religion found in s. 2(a) of the Canadian Charter.  The communal character of religion means that protecting the religious freedom of individuals requires protecting the religious freedom of religious organizations, including religious educational bodies such as Loyola.  Canadian and international jurisprudence supports this conclusion.

The Court accepted therefore that Loyola’s teachers were permitted to describe and explain Catholic doctrine and ethical beliefs from the Catholic perspective. They agreed with the principle of the ERC course that Loyola’s teachers must describe and explain the ethical beliefs and doctrines of other religions in an objective and respectful way but accepted that where the context of the classroom discussion requires it, they may identify what Catholic beliefs are, why Catholics follow those beliefs, and the ways in which other ethical or doctrinal propositions do not accord with those beliefs.

An interesting point was raised in para 150 regarding the fact that a completely secular approach was not necessarily a neutral approach
150 By using as her starting point the premise that only a secular approach to teaching the ERC Program can suffice as equivalent, the protection contemplated by the s. 22 exemption provision was rendered illusory.

This mirrored to some extent similar points made by the European ourt of Human Rights in the Lautsi (Italian Crucifix) case in 2011

A preference for secularism over alternative world views—whether religious, philosophical or otherwise—is not a neutral option.

The case may well be too specific to Quebec legislation for it to have a wider influence but since s2 of the Canadian Charter is similar to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights this case could be of value to UK Religious based Schools should they feel that parts of the National Curriculum are contrary to their religious nature and identity.  It may be particularly helpful as providing some guidance and reassurance for religious schools considering the difficult question of how they are to teach about same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Socialism is a "Belief"

The Employment Appeals Tribunal has made an "interesting" decision in General Municipal and Boilermakers Union v Henderson [2015] UKEAT 0073_14_1303 where it has agreed that a strong commitment to "left-wing democratic socialist beliefs" would constitute a "philosophical belief" for the purpose of s10 Equality Act 2010  which say
(1) Religion means any religion and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion.

(2) Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.
The judgement itself is lengthy to the point of tedium and involves a dispute between Mr Henderson and his employer who happened to be the GMB Union.  It seems from the judgement that it was accepted by both sides that Mr Henderson had strongly held “left-wing democratic socialist beliefs” and that it was also accepted that these constituted protected beliefs for the purpose of s10.  The rest of the judgement involves the EAT Judge deciding that Mr Henderson was not actually discriminated against because of those beliefs.

However was the EAT Judge right to agree that left wing Socialism was a protected belief under s10 ? In my view she was emphatically and hopelessly wrong.  I covered the question in Chapter 3 of my book "Religious Discrimination and Hatred Law" where I quoted the Parliamentary debate when the Equality Bill was going through Parliament.  Chapter 3 read as follows

"One thing that was made clear in both the Lords and the Commons was that Parliament did not want to see Political Beliefs or the membership of a political party being treated by the courts as a “belief” for the purposes of section 44. Questions were raised on this point in both houses because the definition of “religion or belief” in s44 differed from the definition that was already in place in s2(1) of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 namely
"religion or belief" means any religion, religious belief, or similar philosophical belief

Concerns were raised that removing the word "similar" could mean that it would become illegal to discriminate against people because of their political beliefs. Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland said (Hansard 13 July 2005 Col 1109)
"The intention behind the wording in Part 2 is identical to that in the employment regulations. However, in drafting Part 2, it was felt that the word "similar" added nothing and was, therefore, redundant. This is because the term "philosophical belief" will take its meaning from the context in which it appears; that is, as part of the legislation relating to discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. Given that context, philosophical beliefs must therefore always be of a similar nature to religious beliefs. It will be for the courts to decide what constitutes a belief for the purposes of Part 2 of the Bill, but case law suggests that any philosophical belief must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and must not be incompatible with human dignity. Therefore an example of a belief that might meet this description is humanism, and examples of something that might not—I hope I do not give any offence to anyone present in the Chamber—would be support of a political party or a belief in the supreme nature of the Jedi Knights."

Whilst Home Office Minister Paul Goggins MP said (Hansard 6 December 2005 Col 146)
"philosophical belief is not limitless; for example, it would not be possible to claim that belief in the supremacy of a certain football team qualified as a religion or philosophical belief. Nor, indeed, could that claim be made about belief in the principles of a political party, the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. We know that because of the case in April this year of Baggs v. Fudge, in which a member of the British National party sought to challenge the refusal of an organisation to interview him for a job under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, which incorporate wording about “philosophical belief” similar to that in the Bill. That individual’s argument, that his support for the BNP constituted a philosophical belief, was thoroughly rejected by the tribunal, so there is no case to suggest that any such political belief would qualify as a religion or belief under the Bill. We are not making up the provisions on the spur of the moment; as I said, there is a precedent for them in the 2003 regulations.
Mr. Grieve: I can understand the rationale in Baggs v. Fudge, which concerned an adherence to a political party, as I understand it. That seems to me to be capable of being distinguished from an adherence to a particular philosophical belief. There may be no such difference, but the Minister may understand why I remain slightly troubled by this point. It is one thing to say, “We refused to interview him because he was a member of the BNP” and another to say, “We refused to interview him because we knew that he had a belief in white supremacy”. Maybe there is no distinction between those two statements, but I see a capacity for one. I wonder whether we are in danger of opening a door to people to make such arguments.
Paul Goggins: Often those two things, a particular belief and association with an organisation, are inextricably linked. In the end it will always be for the court, the employment tribunal or other judicial setting to determine whether the provisions of a particular employment law are relevant to a particular case. Our job here is to set out in legislation the overall provisions, and that we do, in a way that does not give limitless extent to the concept of philosophical belief, but ensures that it is consistent with the hallmarks of religious belief, such as cogency, which I quoted earlier"

So is a belief in Political Islamism or indeed Fascism, now protected by the Equality Act ?   

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Equality and Human Rights Commission Report

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued a Report on Religion or belief in the workplace and service delivery which is an analysis of a consultation regarding the operation of the Equality Act 2010 in relation to protecting (or not protecting) expressions of Religion and Belief especially in the workplace

I was asked to speak on the subject to BBC Radio Merseyside this morning and you can hear my contribution HERE (I am at 01:06:00  the contribution from the EHRC is at 00:06:00 )

My main point which I have made before is that the real problem is the fact that people increasingly look for reasons to be 'offended' rather than adopting a 'live and let live' attitude to others.  

The EHRC consultation elicited responses from 2,500 people with the largest number of responses coming from Christians from a number of denominations. The EHRC website says that

"Positive experiences included respondents describing workplaces with an inclusive environment in which employees and employers were able to discuss openly the impact of religion or belief on employees or customers. Some respondents of different religions also reported they were easily able to take time off to celebrate religious holidays.

Some employees or service users stated that they had experienced no or few negative issues in their workplace or in receiving a service which they attributed to the view of employers or service providers that religion or belief was a private matter and should not be discussed in the workplace or the service.

Some employees and students stated that they had encountered hostile and unwelcoming environments in relation to the holding, or not holding, of a religion or belief. The issues raised concerned the recruitment process, working conditions, including the wearing of religious clothing or symbols, promotion and progression, and time off work for religious holidays and holy days. Some reported that particular beliefs were mocked or dismissed in the workplace or classroom, or criticised unwelcome 'preaching' or proselytising, or the expression of hurtful or derogatory remarks aimed at particular groups.

Employees and employers reported that requests relating to religion or belief issues were not always fairly dealt with in the workplace and some called for better guidance on how to achieve this.

Many participants were concerned about the right balance between the freedom to express religious views and the right of others to be free from discrimination or harassment. Specific issues raised included conscientious objection in relation to marriage of same sex couples and how to protect employees from harassment and discrimination by staff, customers or service users with a religion. There was a marked divergence of opinion about when it was desirable and appropriate to discuss religious beliefs with service users during the delivery of a service.

A group of service providers with a religious ethos expressed concerns about reductions in funding opportunities from the public and private sectors.

Some participants viewed the current equality and human rights legal framework relating to religion or belief favourably, arguing that it provided a single robust framework to deal with discrimination and equality. Others were broadly favourable, but felt a pluralistic approach had not yet gone far enough. A third group viewed the law negatively, with some Christian employers, service users and providers considering that Christianity had lost status as a result of the legal framework. "

My own view is that I do not expect to see anything positive coming from the EHRC which so far as I am concerned is simply a waste of the taxpayers money. It is a paradox of EHRC like so many other organisations in modern Britain that is considers itself a beacon of liberal tolerance but that liberal tolerance is only extended to similarly minded tolerant liberals.