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The Church and State - A Constitutional Crisis?

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

The current and longstanding association between Church and State debatably rests on

tradition and convention. In 1953, on the day of the Coronation, her majesty, Queen

Elizabeth II, swore to “maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church”. When

the day comes, King Charles will, most likely, promise to do the same. However, according

to the majority of the population who have ‘no religion’ (British Social Attitudes survey),

such an anomaly must not continue.

If disestablishment were to occur, it is unpredictable what the outcomes might be. Arguably,

the results would not be catastrophic and the constitution would carry on functioning as

normal. One of the main manifestations of the establishment includes the monarch’s role as

Head of State and Head of the Church. However, other elements directly affect the

democratic process of our uncodified constitution; one crucial example is the presence of

Lord Spiritual’s in the House of Lords. The debate surrounding the Church’s role in the

legislature is well-established and extensive. In fact, this is the ground for many arguments

put forward for reform of the Upper House. While some say the faith of the Archbishops and

Bishops who retain seats is a discriminatory requirement, others pose that religion as a whole

should have no role in the constitution. So, we face two questions. Firstly, should the faith

based requirement of the Lord Spirituals be extended to those of other faiths? And secondly,

what good do the Lord Spiritual’s even do; should they even have a role in the first place?

In regard to the former question, there is a simple and practical answer. While the argument

is sound, the solution is complicated. Any extension to other faiths would make sense, if it

were limited to the conventional, traditional faiths such as Islam, Buddhism and so forth. But

to what end does this limit meet? Would it mean, say, that advocates of Scientology would be

invited to speak on public issues? Simply, there would not be room for countless number of

debatably ‘legitimate’ faiths. Furthermore, many members of the faith community in general

support the Lord Spiritual’s as they stand. They are said to represent the voice of collective

faith, connecting geographic and spiritual communities that aren’t otherwise represented. In

the words of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks “I do not think there is any way to end the presence

of the Lords Spiritual, who are involved in very good and important work”.

So, let us tackle the latter question. Of course, there are many issues on which it might be

considered inappropriate for the Lords Spiritual to vote. Such examples might be around

financial legislation, for example. However, in a supposedly non-political chamber that has

become largely political due to the appointment process of Life Peers by the Prime Minister

themselves, the presence of Lords Spiritual’s is arguably one of the only remaining, pure

aspects of the Upper Chamber. Here are some examples of the Lords Spiritual voting records:

Overall, it might be said that reform is necessary to an extent; perhaps the positions should

also be extended to women bishops, for example. However, the presence of Lords Spirituals

as an example of establishment in today’s State is necessary and justified.

Formerly, Prince Charles has stated that he will be a “defender of faith” and thus hopefully

the link between Church and State will be secure for another generation. However, it is

important that our population understands the crucial role that Faith plays in today’s society,

not only in our constitution but also in connection with Science, which the rest of this booklet

shall continue to explore.

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