FaithWorld

UK court accused of interfering in Jewish identity

britishsupremecourt

UK Supreme Court in London, 14 Sept 2009/Andrew Winning

Britain’s top court was accused of interfering in religious matters after it ruled on Wednesday that a Jewish school was guilty of discrimination by refusing entry to a boy whose mother was a Jew by conversion, not birth.

The Supreme Court said the policy employed by the popular JFS school in London broke race laws by using ethnicity to decide which pupils to admit.  “Essentially we must now apply a ‘non-Jewish definition of who is Jewish’,” said Simon Hochhauser, president of the United Synagogue.

The case was brought after the school refused to admit a boy, known as M, whose father was a practicing Jew and whose mother had converted to Judaism at a non-orthodox synagogue. The over-subscribed school gave precedence to children recognized as ethnically Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth.

This stipulates that a person is Jewish if they are descended through the maternal line from a woman who is Jewish, or if they have undergone an orthodox Jewish conversion course.

Read the whole story here and tell us whether you think this is reasonsable or unacceptable interference.

The Swiss minaret ban and other trends for Islam in Europe

minarets-trainSwitzerland’s vote to ban minarets on mosques there raises the question of whether anything similar might happen elsewhere in Europe. Researching this for an analysis of the vote today, I found experts distinguished between actually banning an Islamic symbol such as the minaret and using the minaret example to fan voters’ fears and boost a (usually far-right) party’s chances at the polls. It seems Switzerland’s trademark direct democracy system makes it possibly the only country in Europe where both seem possible right now. (Photo: Vote “yes” posters in Zurich’s main train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

This distinction could become more important in coming months as far-right parties, as they are expected to do, try to exploit the minaret ban to rally support for their anti-immigration policies. The Swiss far right has already suggested going for a ban of full facial veils (aka burqas and niqabs) next. Marine Le Pen, deputy leader of France’s National Front, has called for a referendum in France not only on minarets, but also on immigration and a wide array of other issues linked to Muslims. Filip Dewinter, head of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, said he wanted to change zoning laws there to ban buildings that damage the cultural identity of the surrounding neighbourhood”. It remains to be seen how far they can get with these demands.

At the same time, the consensus reaction from politicians and the press across Europe today was critical of the Swiss vote. Most of the excited calls for more action come from fringe parties the majority parties keep at a distance (except the Northern League, which is part of Silvio Berlusconi’s government in Italy). Referendums are not as easy to stage in other European countries and are even banned in Germany, where the up-and-coming team of Hitler andGoebbels used them before 1933 to rally support for the Nazi Party.

Did Jesus headline Glastonbury before Springsteen?

glastonburyJesus Christ may have visited an English town now renowned for a raucous modern-day music festival to meet ancient druids, a new film argues.  “And Did Those Feet” explores the theory that Jesus accompanied Joseph of Arimathea on a visit to the area around the southern English town of Glastonbury. (Photo: At the end of Glastonbury Festival 2009, 29 June 2009/Luke MacGregor)

The Glastonbury Festival held on a farm near the town draws some of the 21st century’s biggest music stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, Neil Young and U2 to the world’s largest open air music and arts festival.

Church of Scotland Minister and researcher for the film Gordon Strachan argues that Jesus may have come to Britain to further his education because the area was a stronghold of the ancient druids, then associated with ancient wisdom.

UK’s man at Vatican stresses ties that bind

campbellSpeaking against the background noise of exploding fireworks as Britons marked the failure of the Catholic Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot of 1605, Britain’s man at the Vatican, Francis Campbell, stressed the ties that bind his country and the Vatican on international relations.

Campbell, a Catholic from Northern Ireland who has been UK Ambassador to the Holy See since 2005, was delivering the St Thomas More Lecture (full text here) at the Allen Hall Seminary in London’s fashionable Chelsea district. (Photo: Ambassador Campbell/FCO)

The UK envoy emphasised how Pope Benedict’s approach to international relations had been shaped by his experience of growing up in Germany during the Nazi era. Campbell noted how Benedict, like his predecessor John Paul, “saw how fragile society actually was” and noted that he is one of the last of that generation still in authority.

Climate change debate spurs warm feelings in London

china-climateIt is rare that religion and science find agreement, but that is what happened when Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke at a meeting on saving the earth from climate change.

“The great Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson published a book in 2007 called “Creation”, subtitled An Appeal to Save Life on Earth,” Sacks told leaders of all the major faiths meeting at Lambeth Palace in London on Thursday. (Photo: A partially dried reservoir in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, China, 29 Oct 2009/stringer)

“I thought that was a very good book. E.O. Wilson is known not to be religious, but what this book was was a call to religious people and scientists to call off the war between religion and science and work together for the sake of the future of life on earth.

Will Queen Elizabeth give the pope a warm welcome next year?

queenOne can guess what Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will say to Pope Benedict when the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion travels to the Vatican later this year. The more interesting question might be what  Queen Elizabeth is likely to say when she hosts the pope next year. (Photo: Queen Elizabeth, 13 June 2009/Luke MacGregor)

The timing of the trips couldn’t be more intriguing, especially the second one. The pope is due to visit Britain in September 2010 and is expected to preside there over the beatification of the late Cardinal John Henry Newman, a famous 19th-century convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism.

The queen is, after all, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, many of whose flock the pope is seeking to poach with his offer last week allowing Anglicans to convert en masse while keeping many of their traditions. And among her honorifics is “Defender of the Faith.” While that sounds impressive, it pales in comparison to Benedict’s long string of titles including “Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles and Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church.” But oneupmanship is a British sport, so one never knows how these things can turn out.

Global South Anglican bishops politely decline pope’s offer

bibleConservative bishops who say they represent almost half the world’s Anglicans urged fellow believers on Sunday to reform the Anglican Communion rather than take up Pope Benedict’s invitation to join the Roman Catholic Church. (Photo: A Bible, 20 Aug 2008/Simon Newman)

The “Global South” group, which last year seemed close to quitting the Communion, said those opposed to gay clergy and other liberal reforms should “stand firm with us in cherishing the Anglican heritage (and) pursuing a common vocation.”

Indirectly declining the pope’s offer to receive alienated Anglicans, the group called on the Communion’s member churches to adopt a “covenant” to coordinate policy in the loosely structured 77-million-strong worldwide Anglican community.

Ruth Gledhill’s reflections on reporting about religion

gledhillCovering religion is unlike other assignments in journalism, as any reporter on the “Godbeat” can tell you. Ruth Gledhill (photo at right), veteran religion correspondent of The Times in London and fellow blogger (hers is called Articles of Faith), recently gave a short, witty and insightful talk on reporting about faith.

There’s a lot there in only 11minutes and 27 seconds. How about this for an opener: “The only place the press is mentioned in the Bible is in Luke 19 when Zacchaeus the tax collector has to climb a tree to see Jesus because of the crowds. The King James Version renders this: ‘he couldn’t see because of the press’.”

Click here for the audio tape of the talk. And let us know if you sometimes feel like Zacchaeus.

Britain muddles through with assisted suicide guidelines

purdyPressure is growing in Europe for some form of legalised euthanasia but few governments have gone as far as the Benelux countries in allowing assisted suicide in clearly defined cases. The mix of growing public support for ending lives of the terminally ill or brain dead but continued prohibitions on it in the law has led to some long and hard-fought legal battles in Italy (Eluana Englaro) and in France (Vincent Humbert). (Photo: Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, whose case prompted Britain’s new guidelines, 2 June 2009/Stephen Hird)

It has also created a legal and ethical twilight zone where for compassionate reasons the law did not really punish the doctors, nurses or relatives who helped someone die. In France, this became clear in a number of court cases where the person accused of assisted suicide were convicted but got only a short suspended sentence. In Britain, a frequently used way to get around the law has been the so-called “suicide tourism” route to the Dignitas suicide group in Zurich.

Pressed by the Law Lords to clarify British policy, the Director of Public Prosecutions in London has issued guidelines indicating when someone who helps another person to commit suicide might face legal action. At first glace, this may seem like a clarification. But it still leaves enough questions out there to leave the issue shrouded in uncertainty. The reception in London has been mixed. Some commentators say this strikes a sensible balance but others think it’s not enough and parliament has to debate and legislate on it.

Graying Britain looks to assisted suicide reform

nitschkeIt used to be an issue just for the terminally ill. Now as populations around the world age, governments are increasingly being confronted with the taboo idea of dying as something people can volunteer to do.

“The demand for the option, if not the practice, is growing rapidly,” said Dr. Philip Nitschke, 61, founder and director of the pro-euthanasia group Exit International. (Photo: Dr. Nitschke shows his ‘suicide kit,’ 7 May 2009/Stefan Wermuth)

The Australian doctor — nicknamed Dr Death for his work on suicide — is traveling the world to teach people how to end their lives safely with a suicide drug-testing kit.