Wednesday, 11 July 2007

In this country of atheists, religious privilege is still being buttressed

The Governance of Britain

Last week the government released a green paper on the UK Constitution, reaffirming that the special rights, powers and benefits of the Church of England are to continue and so ensuring that this double standard will remain institutionalised and thereby implicitly endorsing continuing double standards thinking within UK governmental decisions. Note that a green paper is a tentative government report of a proposal without any commitment to action but it is a first step in changing the law. Now is the time to start raising objections to this before it goes any further!

Why is this a double standard? Well only 2% of the UK population attends the Church of England services, yet this specific religious organisation gets benefits such as VAT tax-relief, subsidised control of one third of the England's schools, veto control of local educational authorities, control of religious education syllabus (with the Catholic Church) and uniquely for a modern democracy self-appointed clerics in the House of Lords. And what of the other 98% of the electorate? We pay our taxes and get no benefit to ourselves. Why should our money provide preferential education to encourage and recruit believers to that institution (well given the percentages above, we know it is not effective but that is not a justification of ignoring it nor letting it continue)? Why should certain bishops have a say in the legislative process when the rest of the 98% is mostly unrepresented in an equivalent fashion? This is a modern democracy?

This also sets a precedent for other religious groups Roman Catholicism, Judaism and now Islam and Hinduism to rather than stop this double standard and create a neutral ground - for everyone to participate and benefit in equally from the legislature, education and tax benefits -to instead expand this double standard to benefit them specifically too, again to the detriment of the rest of the tax-paying electorate. Whilst this implication is not set out in the green paper, what real argument does the government have against this, having just freshly endorsed this double standard again?


For you information I have extracted the key parts of the green paper to do with the Church of England. I have omitted parts dealing with internal church appointments and have italicised key problematic statements. I have omitted paragraphs when it is clear they are not relevant and included others where I, myself, am unsure of their relevance. This being a paper on the constitution it really only focuses on legislative appointments in the House of Lords but makes more general statements too. I have not found any specific references to education and tax-relief but this, I assume, would be outside such a paper's brief and this certainly indicates no change is likely forthcoming with respect to these related issues. (Note I believe that suffragan bishops are those appointed to the House of Lords.)

There is much more of interest to me than just the religious aspects and I will analyse this paper in further posts later this week.

The Government’s role in ecclesiastical, judicial and
public appointments

Appointments in the Church of England

57. The Church of England is by law established as the Church in England
and the Monarch is its Supreme Governor. The Government remains
committed to this position.

58. Because The Queen acts on the advice of Ministers, the Prime Minister as
her First Minister has a role in advising The Queen on certain appointments
within the Church. Diocesan and Suffragan Bishops, as well as 28 Cathedral
Deans, a small number of Cathedral Canons, some 200 parish priests and
a number of other post-holders in the Church of England are appointed by
The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister.

59. In the case of Archbishops and Diocesan Bishops, reflecting the agreement
reached between the Church and the State in 1976, the Crown Nominations
Commission (formerly the Crown Appointments Commission) passes two
names to the Prime Minister, usually in order of preference, who may
recommend either of them to The Queen, or reject both and ask for
further nominations. The Crown Nominations Commission is a Churchbased
body, with the Archbishop of Canterbury as Chair and the Archbishop
of York as Vice-Chair. However, the Prime Minister’s Secretary for
Appointments is an ex-officio and non-voting member. The chair of the
Crown Nominations Commission is taken by the Archbishop in whose
province the vacancy has arisen.

60. For the appointment of Suffragan Bishops the relevant Diocesan Bishop is
required by law to submit two names to the Crown. These are passed to
the Prime Minister by the Archbishop of the Province concerned with a
supportive letter. It has been the convention for more than a century that
the Prime Minister advises the Monarch to nominate the person named
first in the petition.

62. In considering the role which the Prime Minister and the Government
should play in Church appointments, the Government is guided by
four principles:

the Government reaffirms its commitment to the position of the
Church of England by law established, with the Sovereign as its
Supreme Governor, and the relationship between the Church and
State. The Government greatly values the role played by the Church
in national life in a range of spheres;

• The Queen should continue to be advised on the exercise of her
powers of appointment by one of her Ministers, which usually means
the Prime Minister;

• in choosing how best to advise The Queen on such appointments, the
Government believes in principle that the Prime Minister should not
play an active role in the selection of individual candidates. Therefore,
the Prime Minister should not use the royal prerogative to exercise
choice in recommending appointments of senior ecclesiastical posts,
including diocesan bishops, to The Queen; and

• the Church should be consulted as to how best arrangements can be
put in place to select candidates for individual ecclesiastical
appointments in line with the preceding principles.

63. To reflect the principle that, where possible, the Prime Minister should not
have an active role in the selection of individual candidates, for diocesan
bishoprics the Prime Minister proposes that from now on he should ask
the Crown Nominations Commission to put only one name to him, a
recommendation he would then convey to The Queen. The Government
will discuss with the Church any necessary consequential changes to
procedures. The current convention for appointing Suffragan Bishops
will continue.

65. These changes would also have implications for the Lord Chancellor’s
patronage of some 450 parishes and a small number of canonries. It would
be sensible for any changes agreed to the procedures for Crown patronage
to be also agreed for the Lord Chancellor’s patronage.

Further Reading

The National Secular Society has analysed the green paper and an abridged version is published in the Guardian's Comment is Free section - where one can add comments.