Religion news 5 March 2024

Kigali. Image credit: GATETE Pacifique - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Bishops challenge Rwanda bill as it is defeated five times in the Lords

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of Manchester and St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, took part in a House of Lords debate on the bill which would allow failed asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda. They participated in votes which defeated the government on five occasions. The Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, objected to declaring that Rwanda will remain safe in the future, which he said “seems to beggar belief”. The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Martin Seeley, asked that those moved to Rwanda might be able to return in some circumstances and warned the incidence of modern day slavery in Rwanda is more than double that of the UK. The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby objected to the bill’s challenge to the right of international law to constrain UK actions. The Lords will continue the debate today and the amended bill will go back to the Commons. Hansard report here.

Church of England to raise £1 billion fund to address wrongs of slavery

The Church of England has been told to raise £1 billion from wealthy donors for a fund set up to address its historic links to transatlantic slavery.  The Daily Telegraph reports that the Church Commissioners, who handle more than £10 billion of assets for the Church of England, announced the establishment of a £100 million fund to “address past wrongs of slavery”. The pledge follows the publication of an independent report that found much of the institution’s wealth originates from the slave trade. It sets out recommendations for how the fund should be set up and what it should invest in. Archbishop Justin Welby, Chair of the Church Commissioners’ Board says it’s “the beginning of a multi-generational response to the appalling evil of Transatlantic chattel enslavement.”

US based interfaith organisation visits UK looking to expand

Representatives of the US based United Religions Initiative are visiting the UK to explain their work, meet local groups and expand their network from their existing membership in the Midlands and London. URI was founded by Episcopalian Bishop Bill Swing in San Francisco 30 years ago, and says it is now the world’s largest interfaith organisation, with 1,150 groups in 110 countries. It is a movement of grass roots “co-operation circles” of multi faith members, who foster co-operation to address social issues, funded by individual donations. Speaking at a conference in the New North London Synagogue, he said there is a need for a new impetus for interfaith work, especially in the current volatile world order and this is the moment to create a rallying point around a common task to end religiously motivated violence. His visit comes as the Inter Faith Network announces it is moving towards closure, after the government refused to award a grant. Several speakers suggested that URI might be an alternative structure on which to hang interfaith work in this country.

Fears that new measures against extremism may penalise conservative Christians

Measures against extremism due to be announced by the government next week, have come in for criticism from members of the cabinet, The Times reports. The intention is to tackle extremism from Islamists and the far right, encompassing any group or individual promoting an ideology that “undermines the rights or freedoms of others”. It’s reported that some cabinet members fear it would effectively ban groups such as conservative Christian groups which oppose gay marriage or abortion. The proposals would ban government bodies engaging with or funding groups or individuals deemed extremists.

France creates constitutional right to abortion despite church protests

France has become the first country in the world to create a constitutional right to abortion after its parliament overwhelmingly endorsed a feminist initiative backed by President Macron, despite protestations from the Catholic Church and pro-life groups in France. The BBC says the constitutional change was prompted by recent developments in the US, where the right to abortion was removed by the Supreme Court. The Times reports that Macron has called on the French to “celebrate…a new liberty” on International Women’s day this Friday 8 March.

Lord Cameron’s hopes for peace in the Middle East

The Jewish News reports on a speech given by the foreign secretary Lord David Cameron who told a 1000-strong Jewish Care lunch of his hope that a “pause” in fighting in Gaza could turn into a “sustainable ceasefire” that eventually leads to a “horizon towards a Palestinian state, not involving Hamas.” But he warned that the hostages still held by Hamas, including those with “deep connections” to this country are not going to make it unless we get them out soon.”

Survey indicates 21 per cent of the British public have negative views of Muslims

More in Common and Together UK have conducted a survey showing 21 per cent of the public hold a negative view of Muslims, 31 per cent of the traveller community, 9 per cent of Jewish people, 8 per cent of Sikhs and 7 per cent of Christians. Most believe that Muslims can be British just like any other person and that Islam is a religion of peace. But 42 per cent believe British Muslims are more loyal to other countries than Britain and the older “Baby Boomer” generation are 50 per cent more likely to say they feel negatively towards Muslims than Gen Z. These dynamics reverse in terms of prejudice against Jewish people. Luke Tryl, director of More in Common says failure to tackle prejudice and negative stereotypes undermines community relations, cohesion, integration and vital work to tackle extremism.

Survey of British Muslims finds contentment and belonging

Research for the Institute for the Impact of Faith in Life has found that 86 per cent of British Muslim respondents believe Britain is a good place to live in terms of opportunities to progress, compared with 70 per cent in the wider population. “The Social Contribution of British Muslims” also fiinds 51 per cent feel a strong sense of belonging in their local community and neighbourhood, compared with 35 per cent of the general population. The Guardian picks up another finding that 71 per cent believe more work should be done to improve relations between different faith groups. The survey was conducted from 22 January – 2 February among 1000 Muslims and 1000 members of the general public.

Right wing “Church Militant” group pays out $500,000 for defaming a priest

According to the Associated Press, a far-right, unofficial Catholic media website in the USA has agreed to pay $500,000 to a priest who sued for defamation over an article. Church Militant apologised and agreed to a federal court judgment in favour of the Rev Georges de Laire, an official with the Diocese of Manchester in New Hampshire. The 2019 article cast aspersions on de Laire’s emotional state, said he had “botched” cases he had handled and was known as a “troublemaker” in the Vatican, all claims the site now acknowledges were not properly vetted. His lawyer, Howard Cooper mis quoted saying; “As part of the parties’ resolution, Church Militant has represented that it will be shutting down at the end of April”.

First Sikh to referee a Premier League match this weekend

Sunny Singh Gill will become the first Sikh to referee a Premier League match this weekend. Singh Gill has been appointed to take charge of Crystal Palace vs Luton on Saturday, 9 March. He made history earlier this year when he became the first British South Asian to referee a game between two Premier League teams when he was in charge of Brighton’s FA Cup fourth round victory at Sheffield United in January. Last year his brother Bhupinder was the first Sikh-Punjabi assistant referee to officiate in the Premier League.  His father, Jarnail Singh, was also the first EFL referee to wear a turban when he took charge of Bristol Rovers vs Bury in August 2004. Singh senior went on to referee almost 200 EFL matches up to 2010. Jarnail told Sky Sport: “For Sunny to become both the first British South Asian and the first Sikh to referee in the Premier League is something extraordinary and unbelievable.”


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