Tag Archives: England

Shah on Religious Accommodations

Prakash Shah (Queen Mary, University of London School of Law) has posted Asking About Reasonable Accommodation in the Context of Religious Universalism. The abstract follows.

Interviews conducted with leading actors in England asking a range of questions about religious diversity and the legal framework and, in particular, about reasonable accommodation, helped identify a number of areas of concern. There was some doubt about whether specific legal provision should be brought in to guarantee reasonable accommodation. However, there was broad support for having the principle adopted in the practice of employers, while some preferred the current informality rather than the principle being enforced through litigation. None of the respondents came up with illustrations outside of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. The results are consistent with recent critical studies showing that the assumption in social sciences that religion is a universal has been imported from theology. Religion-based questions only pick out certain phenomena specific to some cultures and an inevitable skew is created when asking such questions because they only make sense within an Abrahamic religious framework. While enabling the identification of some aspects of culture considered to merit reasonable accommodation on grounds of religion, the results also pose questions about the adequacy of current, standard research methodologies which assume that religion is a universal.

Sowerby, “Making Toleration”

The Glorious Revolution is one of the most important events in the political and religious history of the English-speaking world, providing the context for liberal Lockean ideas of government that influenced the American Constitution a century later. I’ve always had the impression that the Revolution was essentially a Protestant rebellion against the last of the Stuart Monarchs, James II, who seemed poised to restore Catholicism in England.  A new book by Northwestern historian Scott Sowerby, Making Toleration: The Repealers and the Glorious Revolution (HUP 2013) , apparently revises the traditional understanding of the Revolution, characterizing the event as an essentially conservative reaction to James II’s liberalism. The publisher’s description follows:

In the reign of James II, minority groups from across the religious spectrum, led by the Quaker William Penn, rallied together under the Catholic King James in an effort to bring religious toleration to England. Known as repealers, these reformers aimed to convince Parliament to repeal laws that penalized worshippers who failed to conform to the doctrines of the Church of England. Although the movement was destroyed by the Glorious Revolution, it profoundly influenced the post-revolutionary settlement, helping to develop the ideals of tolerance that would define the European Enlightenment.

Based on a rich array of newly discovered archival sources, Scott Sowerby’s groundbreaking history rescues the repealers from undeserved obscurity, telling the forgotten story of men and women who stood up for their beliefs at a formative moment in British history. By restoring the repealer movement to its rightful prominence, Making Toleration also overturns traditional interpretations of King James II’s reign and the origins of the Glorious Revolution. Though often depicted as a despot who sought to impose his own Catholic faith on a Protestant people, James is revealed as a man ahead of his time, a king who pressed for religious toleration at the expense of his throne. The Glorious Revolution, Sowerby finds, was not primarily a crisis provoked by political repression. It was, in fact, a conservative counter-revolution against the movement for enlightened reform that James himself encouraged and sustained.

Should Richard III Receive a Catholic Burial?

You thought there couldn’t be a law and religion angle to today’s news–fascinating for us history nerds–that archaeologists have discovered the mortal remains of Richard III beneath a parking lot in Leicester? Think again. Plans are underway to re-inter the bones in the city’s Anglican Cathedral. Not so fast, say some: the hunchback king wasn’t a Protestant, but a Catholic, and he requires a Catholic burial. In fact, as Shakespeare fans know, Richard died at Bosworth Field (“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”), defending his throne from Henry Tudor. Henry went on to reign as Henry VII;  his son, Henry VIII, broke with Rome. As The Tablet’s blog argued this morning, “Had Richard prevailed at the Battle of Bosworth Field, there would have been no Henry VII, therefore no Henry VIII and no Reformation. England today might still be a Catholic country.” Think of it: no Reformation, no Established Church, no Archbishop Laud, no Puritans, no Great Migration — no Massachusetts! — and no Establishment Clause. Surely there’s a law review article in there somewhere.

Leicester Cathedral seems to know it’s facing a sensitive situation. A Catholic priest is keeping watch over Richard’s remains (as is an Anglican, I believe), and the cathedral is planning a “multifaith” burial ceremony. Personally, I’m not sure why English Catholics are so keen to claim Richard, anyway. They must be forgetting the nephews in the Tower.

Walker, “Reason and Religion in Late Seventeenth-Century England”

WalkerThis January, I.B. Tauris will publish Reason and Religion in Late Seventeenth-Century England: The Politics and Theology of Radical Dissent (2013) by historian Christopher J. Walker. The publisher’s description follows.

Reason has always held an uncertain position within Christianity. “I believe because it is absurd’,” wrote Tertullian in the third century as he dismissed rational thought. For Augustine of Hippo, reason had some merit as a route to faith but otherwise was of limited value, since it could undermine a person’s ability to approach God: “the wisdom of the creature,” he opined, “is a kind of twilight.” In seventeenth-century England, reason had come to mean, most usually, a spirit of free enquiry: the exercise of human intelligence upon some form of truth, whether religious or scientific. The notion of revelation, by contrast, indicated the wider accepted divine scheme within which human existence was situated. Christopher J Walker here explores the tensions between the forces of reason and revelation within English religion in the volatile period following the end of the Civil War. Ranging widely across the ideas of The Great Tew Circle, the Cambridge Platonists and dissenters like Paul Best and John Bidle (the “father of English Unitarianism”), the author shows, controversially, that the rational thinking and politics of many of the most supposedly radical figures of the era were not antipathetic to Christian faith but actually integral to it. His book makes an important contribution to the history of both religion and ideas.

Update on English Sabbath-Observance Case

An update on an earlier post about an English appellate court decision on the right of Christian employees to decline to work on Sundays. The decision was released to the public last week, and it turns out that initial press reports were a bit misleading.

The case involved Ms. Celestina Mba, a caregiver in a children’s home who wished to abstain from work on Sundays for religious reasons. When her employer told her she would have to work Sundays, Ms. Mba sued for religious discrimination. A lower court held for the employer and, last month, an  appellate court affirmed.

Under English law, employers can require Christian employees to work Sundays  if there is a legitimate need and the work requirement is proportionate to that need. Press reports, particularly this one in the Telegraph,  made it seem like the appellate court had ignored that balancing test and held categorically that Sunday observance is not a core Christian belief and that Christians could be required to work.

As it turns out, the appellate court did discuss the balancing test. The facts of the case were these. The center had accommodated Ms. Mba for two years, but had ultimately determined that allowing her to stay home Sundays put too great a strain on other staff and threatened to disadvantage the children. These were surely legitimate business needs. And the center had only required Ms. Mba to work some Sundays — roughly two out of three. This seemed a proportionate response to that need.

So where did the language about Sunday observance not being a core Christian belief come in? The lower court had reasoned that, because many Christians do not feel an obligation to abstain from Sunday work, abstention could not be considered a core Christian belief. The appellate court criticized the lower court’s language on this point, but basically agreed with the lower court’s reasoning. In determining whether a work requirement were proportionate to a legitimate business need, the appellate court explained, one had to consider what percentage of a faith community the requirement would affect. If the requirement would affect a large segment of the community, that would suggest that the requirement were disproportionate. If, by contrast, the requirement would affect only a small percentage, that would suggest the opposite. Here, the appellate court reasoned, in requiring Sunday work, the center could take into account the fact that many Christians would have no objection at all to working Sundays.

This is all a bit complicated, the way legal opinions often are. Frank Cranmer at the Law and Religion UK blog has a good description of the opinion, if you’re interested in more details. The bottom line is that the appellate court’s decision was narrower and more subtle than the Telegraph’s report conveyed.

Why did the Telegraph get it wrong? The appellate court’s judgment was announced on December 13, but the opinion was not released to the public until January 10. The Telegraph reported the story at the end of December, before the opinion was available. Apparently the reporter relied on lawyers’ accounts of the case.