Religion news 7 July

Legal action over locked down places of worship     

Banning religious services during the coronavirus lockdown may have been illegal, according to a judgment delivered by the high court judge, Mr. Justice Lewis. He was considering a legal challenge brought by three people, that the lockdown conditions were illegal, breached human rights laws and failed to take account of other significant factors. In the judgment, he dismissed almost all claims except one relating to religious services, saying there might be an arguable case at a future hearing. One of the claimants was a Roman Catholic who wished to attend mass.  Mr Justice Lewis said it was arguable that the restriction on the use of a Roman Catholic church for communal worship and the taking of the sacraments involved an interference with Article 9(1) of the Convention on Human Rights.  He based this on an earlier judgment (21 May) by Mr Justice Swift in a case brought by the chairman of a Bradford mosque, Tabassum Hussain, who claimed it was disproportionate to ban religious services during lockdown. Mr Justice Swift said that case could be argued in a full judicial review hearing at a future date.

Meanwhile, 25 church leaders are also issuing a legal challenge for preventing worshippers from gathering in churches during the lockdown. The group, including leaders of large evangelical churches, is led by the Rev Ade Omooba, co-founder of the conservative campaign Christian Concern. It threatened legal action at the end of May, and is now pursuing it again, saying the government should have offered advice to churches rather than an order to close. They say the action violated the first clause of Magna Carta and article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights which protects freedom of religion. Christian Concern says Mr Justice Swift, a high court judge, has considered documents filed by the group’s lawyers and noted that the case “raises significant matters”, ordering government lawyers to respond by Wednesday 15 July.

Risks to religious education post lockdown

The National Association of Religious Education Teachers (NATRE) is advising teachers to protect RE, which may be put at risk in schools as curriculums and timetables are squeezed so that pupils can catch up after lockdown. Commenting on government guidance for the reopening of schools, NATRE says:
– RE is specifically listed as a subject that must be part of a broad curriculum to Key Stage 3.
– As the curriculum is prioritised, it should not mean RE is dropped.
– If a geographical area goes into lockdown, RE may be at risk in some schools, but home learning materials can be used.
– Reminder that Key Stage 4 (GCSE years) retains a legal entitlement to core RE.
– Visits can take place to places of worship, museums, galleries etc. in the Autumn term,  but extra care should be taken.

Six trainee clergy from one church

Six members of the congregation at St Nicholas’ church in Durham have been recommended to train as vicars this year. The five women and one man aged between 21 and 43, will train at various colleges in England. The church’s vicar, the former Director of Communications for the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England the Rev Arun Arora, said it was “pretty much unheard of for this number of people from a single parish to be recommended for training in a single year”.


Hajj coronavirus rules

Saudi Arabia has announced health and safety rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus Hajj season. Reuters reports that in June, Saudi Arabia announced that international visitors would be barred and the number of domestic pilgrims limited to 1000.  Now it says the Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has revealed new health rules including a ban on gatherings and meetings between pilgrims, the touching of the Kaaba – the holiest site in Islam, and a social distancing space of a metre and a half between each pilgrim during the rituals including mass prayers and while in the Kaaba circling area.  Also, access to holy sites at Mona, Muzdalifah and Arafat will be limited to those with Hajj permits between 19 July and 2  August. The wearing of masks at all times will be mandatory for both pilgrims and organizers.

American faith groups appeal for overseas aid to fight coronavirus

More than thirty faith-based organizations in America are calling on Congress to take immediate action to fund the fight against the coronavirus pandemic overseas. Catholic Relief Services, one of the letter’s signatories, wants $10-15 billion to be spent – “just 0.005% of the $3 trillion Congress has authorized so far for domestic pandemic relief.” Other signatories included the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, World Relief, the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision US, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Sudan Relief Fund. They cite data suggesting over 70% of countries do not have the public health structure to handle outbreaks of disease and up to 3 million deaths could occur.

Dalai Lama welcome in Taiwan

The Dalai Lama has told his supporters in Taiwan that he would like to visit again and Tawian’s foreign ministry said he would be welcomed with mutual respect. The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibet and is viewed by authorities in China as a dangerous separatist. Reuters reports  that relations between China and Taiwan are already strained with Beijing deeply suspicious of Taiwan’s president, a situation made worse when China condemned Taiwan’s offer to receive people from Hong Kong following the security clampdown. A visit by the Dalai Lama would, Reuters suggests, “infuriate Beijing”.