BHA responds to the Archbishops’ letter

From the BHA, 6 May 2017

In a letter written to the Parishes and Chaplaincies of the Church of England ahead of the 2017 general election, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have argued for faith to continue to play a central role in politics, and denounced the growing secularism of the United Kingdom.

In the letter, the Archbishops write:

This election is being contested against the backdrop of deep and profound questions of identity. Opportunities to renew and reimagine our shared values as a country and a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland only come around every few generations. We are in such a time. Our Christian heritage, our current choices and our obligations to future generations and to God’s world will all play a shaping role….

Contemporary politics needs to re-evaluate the importance of religious belief. The assumptions of secularism are not a reliable guide to the way the world works, nor will they enable us to understand the place of faith in other people’s lives…

Religious belief is the well-spring for the virtues and practices that make for good individuals, strong relationships and flourishing communities. In Britain, these embedded virtues are not unique to Christians, but they have their roots in the Christian history of our four nations…

Political responses to the problems of religiously-motivated violence and extremism, at home and overseas, must… recognise that solutions will not be found simply in further secularisation of the public realm. Mainstream religious communities have a central role to play; whilst extremist narratives require compelling counter-narratives that have a strong theological and ideological foundation.

Responding to the letter, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘This is a letter to a country that no longer exists. The public today overwhelmingly recognise that sound virtues and ethics are not the preserve of the religious nor “spring” from Christianity. That is just a self-aggrandising lie, and an insult to the majority of the British people who have non-religious beliefs and values and contribute enormously to British life as they have for generations.

‘The Archbishops  are right that our country stands at a crossroads but they are wrong to say that greater religious privilege is the path that will lead to a happier future. The cause of social cohesion and a peaceful society will not be advanced by the special pleading of already powerful elites whose beliefs have no popular support, but by the creation of a shared national life that treats everyone equally, regardless of religion or belief.

‘Polls show that British people also believe that religion is already too privileged. The Church of England in particular often uses that privilege today to harm others. The most glaring example is the way in which many of its fully state-funded schools continue to turn away those of other religions and beliefs in their admissions – a practice that may shortly be extended – and shut out poorer children. If the Archbishops want to do their bit for a better Britain they should put their own house in order before lecturing others.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3072.

Read the letter: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/electionletter_TEXT.pdf

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Local campaign forces church U-turn over Chancel Repair Liability

Stottesdon-cchurch-repairsThe National Secular Society has a follow-up to the earlier story about the disastrous (for the home owners) Chancel Repair Liability.

The NSS has warned about this ancient and unfair law before: see NSS warns thousands of homes could become worthless as a result of an ancient church tax.

It’s notable that “God’s love” does not seem to have influenced the PCC’s decision to try to claim the tax in the first place, and that the diocese is weaselling out of its responsibility for the “division” in the village.

 

A parochial church council (PCC) that used an ancient law to make homeowners financially liable for repairs to their local church has withdrawn its claim.

Villagers in Stottesdon, near Kidderminster, reacted with dismay when they received notices from the Land Registry informing them claims against their properties had been made by their local church.

The PCC has now backtracked following a local campaign which threatened to boycott the Church. A statement issued by the Diocese of Hereford, stated:

“This PCC has listened to the concerns of parishioners and discussed at length the issue of Chancel Repair Liability. Following careful review and consideration of all material facts the PCC now wishes to withdraw the unilateral notices and the cautions against first registrations lodged with The Land Registry.”

Commenting on the decision to withdraw the claims, Colin Resch, the vicar of St Mary’s Church, said: “The consequences of Chancel Repair Liability in our parish have made it very difficult for us to carry out our prime objective of sharing God’s love within our community.”

The diocesan press statement, entitled, “Church decision brings hope to divided village”, omitted to mention that it was the actions of the PCC that caused the resentment in the first place.

The removal of the registrations means that when houses are sold on the repair liability will not transfer with the ownership, and new householders will not have to pay it. Until that time, the properties are still potentially subject to CLR.

Elaine Hesssion, who set up the local campaign with her partner Jonathan Hill, welcomed the U-turn. She said: “The decision to withdraw Chancel Repair Liability Notices registered against properties in Stottesdon was the morally right one and very good news to the community. Whilst this is certainly a step in the right direction the legal position is that the current PCC or a future PCC can re-register these Notices at any time and then we are back to square one. Those property owners affected would like a deed of relinquishment from the PCC stating that they will never pursue us for chancel repair liability and hopefully this will restore the value to our properties. Maybe then we can all put this behind us and unite once more as a community.”

Ms Hession Facebook campaign group is now assisting homeowners in other areas affected by chancel repair liability.

The withdrawal of the registrations was also welcomed by the National Secular Society (NSS), which is campaigning for Chancel Repair Liability to be abolished.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the NSS, said. “We acknowledge the contribution to our heritage of ancient churches, but it is completely unfair that money for repairing them can be demanded from property owners simply because of what the Law Commission describes as “anomalous, uncertain and obscure” law.

“Chancel Repair Liabilities have caused a substantial reduction in value and even saleability of the properties registered. Until the law is abolished the Church needs to try much harder to permit property owners to buy out their liabilities at affordable rates.”

The law of Chancel Repair Liability dates back to the time of Henry VIII but had been little exercised for centuries until, in 2009, Adrian and Gail Wallbank were forced to sell their home after losing a protracted legal battle over a demand for almost £100,000 to fund repairs of their local medieval church at Aston Cantlow in Warwickshire.

Following the Wallbanks’ case, the Government introduced a registration procedure enabling CRL to be shown on Land Registry documents. Around 12,000 registrations have been made by 250 parishes. Another 5,000 parishes that are eligible to do so, have not registered any claims. Further properties are potentially subject to CRL, despite being not being registered.

Since the Wallbanks’ case, many vendors have taken out insurance against purchasers’ future liability. The option of relatively inexpensive insurance is not open to owners of properties that have been registered – many of which were purchased before the Wallbank case, without CLR appearing on the deeds.

A petition urging the Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling to abolish chancel repair liability can be signed at Change.org.

The campaign group set up my Elaine Hession can be contacted via Facebook.

Homeowners have to pay for church repairs – by law

From the National Secular Society, 27 Feb 2014:

Stottesdon-cchurch-repairsAn archaic law left over from the reign of Henry VIII has caused anger in a Shropshire village after a number of households found out they could be liable for paying for repairs at their local church.

Notices informing residents that claims against their properties had been made by their local parochial church council has left villagers in Stottesdon reeling.

Michael and Eunice Evans, who are a third generation family to farm land in Stottesdon, told the Shropshire Star that the letter had caused great anxiety.

“It’s not a very Christian thing to do at all,” said Mrs Evans.

“Our families are rooted in Stottesdon and we’ve always supported the church, but we’ve been put off now. We feel badly let down because of the financial implications for us and future generations.”

Mrs Evans added: “The notice we had was quite frightening and we’ve lost sleep over it.”

Under ancient ecclesiastical law, chancel repair liability gives ancient churches the right to demand financial contributions towards repairs to its chancel from local property owners.

Since October 2010 the Government and the Charity Commission have enabled parochial church councils (the churches’ charity trustees) to register chancel repair liability against affected property titles. Owners of properties with registrations against them are likely to see a fall in the value, or even saleability, of their property.

According to the Land Registry, properties in around 5,300 parishes in England and Wales are subject to chancel repair liability. Registration notices have recently been served on around 12,000 properties in around 250 parishes. Another 5,000 parishes that are eligible to do so have not registered any interests.
Elaine Hession, one of the organisers of a local campaign against chancel repair liability in Stottesdon, told the National Secular Society that she was shocked when the letter came through the post.

“We had no knowledge of this liability whatsoever so it came as a total shock to receive a Legal Notice from the Land Registry advising us that the local church were registering this claim against our property.

“In our correspondence with the Hereford Diocese, not once have they addressed the pain and suffering caused by this decision to register or expressed any regret for the distress this has caused. This has been one of the most stressful things we have had to deal with and has had a very negative impact on our health and happiness. I know the others affected here in Stottesdon feel the same.”

Jonathan Hill, another resident whose home subject is to registration, said: “I am deeply distressed by the situation I find myself in. Behind every faceless Land Registry title number, of the properties that have had chancel repair liability registered against them, are ordinary people deeply affected by the registration against their home and property.”

The National Secular Society has been actively campaigning for the abolition of chancel repair liability, and have involved parliamentarians and senior figures in the Ministry of Justice and the Church.

Stephen Evans, NSS campaigns manager, said: “Real hardship is being caused, and both the Government and the Church of England need to recognise this.
“Most people will acknowledge ancient churches are part of our heritage, but it is completely unfair that money for repairing them can be demanded from local property owners, often unconnected with the church. It’s time this ancient law was consigned to the annals of history where it belongs and a fairer way found to preserve our common heritage.”

A petition urging the Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling to abolish chancel repair liability can be signed at Change.org.

Two news items: are they related?

Poll: Young people turn decisively against religion
Tuesday, 25 June 2013 9:26 AM By Ian Dunt at politics.co.uk

Young people in Britain have turned against religion, with many considering it a source of evil, a new poll suggests.A YouGov poll for the Sun found intense hostility towards religion among 18-24 year olds and very low levels of belief in God.

Forty-one per cent of young people told pollsters ‘religion is more often the cause of evil in the world’ while only 14% said it was a cause for good. Asked which figures had influence in their lives, religious leaders came bottom, with only 12% saying they were influenced by them.
That was a lower figure even than for politicians, who scored 38%, brands, which scored 32% or celebrities, who scored 21%.

Twenty-five per cent of young people said they believed in God, 19% believed in a non-Godlike ‘spiritual greater power’ and 38% were atheists who didn’t believe in any greater spiritual power. Read more…

Church Could Take Control Of Secular Schools Under New Deal, Report Says
4 July 2013 PA/The Huffington Post UK

The Church of England could be given the power to run thousands of secular schools, the Times has reported, in a move that could “bring the education system under religious control” according to secular campaigners.

Read more…

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