First audit of religion in Scots law since Victorian era

November 4, 2014

A Scottish university is launching a project to discover how much privilege religion receives under Scots law.

The project – the first of its kind in more than 100 years – is being funded by the Humanist Society Scotland to the tune of £40,000.

Researchers at Glasgow ­University will compile a report discussing what influence religion has on laws in Scotland in various aspects, including education and marriage.

History professor Callum Brown and law professor Jane Mair, along with research assistant Dr Thomas Green, will spend the next 10 months gathering information for the project.

The HSS says the project aims to encourage talks with the ­Scottish Government to change current laws to reduce religious privilege and make the country more equal.

HSS chief executive Douglas McLellan said: “I am delighted that this opportunity has arisen. The HSS is investing £40,000 in this project to provide an exceptional level of research into the privileges enjoyed by religion in Scots law.

“The HSS believes that for ­Scotland to progress as a fair and equal nation, it needs to be a nation with no special laws, practises or exemptions for religions or religious organisations.

“We are supporting this project to demonstrate where religion currently has privileges, which will then allow us to work with the Scottish Government and MSPs in the Scottish Parliament to take opportunities to amend ­legislation and reduce religious privilege.”

Some of the cases studied could be from as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries.

Mr Brown, a history professor at the university said: “This is a most important research undertaking. No complete guide to religion in Scots law has been compiled since the Victorian period, and there have been so many changes in church, religion and the law since then that there is a need to provide a one-stop resource for lawyers, humanists, church people, journalists and academics. Research could range from prohibition on a Sunday through to any restrictions in employment law.

“We’re interested in religious privilege, which is by and large now being eroded by human rights legislation from the EU, Westminster and Holyrood. Recent legislation has specifically sought to create an equality between those who have a religious belief and those who do not.”

He said Dr Green would carry out much of the research on cases where religion has influenced the law, such as Church of Scotland clerics having positions on education boards. Professor Brown added: “We will write reports based on his findings on various aspects of law, such as education and human rights.”

He said they were particularly interested in how religion had affected marriage laws.

They will also focus on laws that still stand today. He added: “It’s a commentary on where we think law is heading. These kinds of surveys used to be produced by ecclesiastical lawyers. We’re producing one for the 21st century.”

From the Herald Scotland.

Photo Courtesy: Dave Wilson, Creative Commons.

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