Religion’s influence on Scots law declining in every area except education

Professor Jane Mair

A report has found a weakening of the position of religion in Scots law in all areas, except education, where it has been significantly strengthened in recent years.

Religion in Scots Law, funded by the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) and conducted by the University of Glasgow, was published today.

The report includes a number of “quirks” such as the fact Church ministers still get a 50 per cent discount on council tax, the exemption from minimum wage payment rules for religious communities and the fact the blasphemy law has not passed into desuetude.

Regarding education, it found that the 11 members of the General Teaching Council of Scotland are required to include one member from Church of Scotland and one from the Roman Catholic Church. It also found the decisions of previous secretaries of state may have led to the development of quasi-denominational schools in Scotland

The report was commissioned in November 2014 with HSS providing £40,000 of funding to cover the costs of the research team including a full-time post-doctorate researcher. HSS are supporting the release of the report, in full, into the public domain, in the hope that it will inform the debate about the role of religion in public life.

Speaking about the launch of the report, HSS chief executive Gordon MacRae said the report’s “most significant theme” was “a weakening of the position of religion in Scots law in all areas, except education; where it has been significantly strengthened in recent years.

Professor Jane Mair, of the University of Glasgow Law School, an expert in marriage law, said: “In recent years some of the most radical legal reforms have taken place in Scots marriage law. This has been characterised by a shift from institutional rights to individual rights.

“Religious organisations no longer enjoy any privileged position, with the exception of Church of Scotland ministers who retain separate recognition within the law from other religious and belief group celebrants.

“The 2014 Marriage and Civil Partnership Act highlighted a watershed moment in Scottish public life, and highlighted the declining role of religion in shaping the model of marriage.

“The development of marriage law in Scotland gives a concise overview of the developing treatment of religion in Scots law generally. Today Scotland remains the only part of the UK where Humanists can perform legal weddings.”

Professor Callum Brown, from the University of Glasgow, said: “This report will be of particular interest to academics, campaigners and policy-makers in Scotland. We hope that by giving an authoritative and comprehensive examination of the areas into which religion intrudes into Scots law will help to inform the current debate.

“The report outlines examples of religion’s place in the law, which is by and large now being eroded by human rights legislation from Europe, Westminster and Holyrood. This report is timely, given the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections in May, and we are confident it will inform the policies of future Scottish governments in the years to come.”


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