SORS on the Mainland

It’s come to that moment. The Government has published the SORS that will cover the mainland UK, except the latest news from this lunchtime is that they have been withdrawn from the Government website for corrections (Though it is now finally up). But don’t think that that’s the last of it. Apparently the House of Lords’ Merit Committee was meant to be receiving public submissions on SORS until 3pm this afternoon. Didn’t stop them finishing a report when it met yesterday. Bizarre and undemocratic? You betcha.

To top it the Government announced (very) late last night that there will be a Commons Committee meeting (the Delegated Legislation Committee) to discuss the legislation tomorrow morning at 8.55am. Stretch and yawn for all the MPs who have to get up for it. This will then very likely be followed by only a two hour debate next Wednesday. As you all know, I blogged last year on this as the Northern Ireland SORS were drawn up and then implemented despite the majority of voters in Ulster opposing them. In particular there are a number of questions around SORS and the ability for Christians to preach the gospel which still remain unanswered. I shall be writing again to my MP, the Opposition Small Business spokesman Mark Prisk, tomorrow to ask him what, if anything, the Opposition will do to address these issues which I’ll repeat below:

  • As a clergyman I believe the Act as it stands would safeguard me from being accused of “an act that violated someone’s dignity or created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment” by exercising correct ecclesiastical discipline in refusing communion in an Anglican church to someone who I believed to be an unrepentant sinner (in this regard someone involved in sex outside of marriage). Would the Act protect me from being prosecuted for such an allegation when conducting a communion service in a non-Anglican environment (for example a public open gathering in a non-consecrated building)?
  • In the same circumstances as question (i), would the Act safeguard me from such an accusation if I was an unordained, unlicensed lay-person performing the same act?
  • Section 16 of the Act safeguards me as a minister from being accused of violating someone’s dignity if I preach from the Bible against homosexual practice (as a former homosexual I am receiving an increasing number of speaking requests in this regard) in an Anglican Church. What if I am at a public, non-church meeting?
  • In the same circumstances as question (iii), what if I was a non-ordained, non-licensed lay-person? Would the Act safeguard me?
  • Were I to publish a book on the subject of homosexuality, critical of the notion of gay identity, and then to conduct a public reading in a non-church environment, would the Act protect me from prosecution? What about an interview on the radio?
  • In the same circumstances of question (v), what if I was a non-ordained, non-licensed lay-person? Would the Act safeguard me?

Looking carefully at the new regulations it appears that the references to prosecution if you had subjected someone to an “humiliating or degrading environment” have been removed, so I am somewhat happier then in December, but there are still issues of sacramental practice outside a recognised Church building to be discussed. Furthermore, if the references to prosecution for subjecting someone to an “humiliating or degrading environment” have been removed, why were they in the Northern Ireland regulations to begin with and will they be removed?

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