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Dear Members,
 
Catholic Union Head of Public Affairs James Somerville-Meikle writes: This week Catholic Scottish Bishops issued their strongest warning yet about the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, which is currently being scrutinised by Holyrood’s Justice Committee. The Bishops warned that: "A new offence of possessing inflammatory material could even render material such as the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church...inflammatory”. This is extremely worrying, but it’s not just the Church who has concerns. Since the Bill was published in April, there have been growing calls for a rethink from groups including the Scottish Newspaper Society, the Law Society of Scotland, and the National Secular Society. Debates on the Bill touch on what it means to be a tolerant society. Does tolerance mean a society where everyone has to conform and think the same way, or a society in which different views are respected? This is perhaps one of the defining questions in politics at the moment. It’s good to see the Catholic Bishops in Scotland have taken a stand.

The House of Lords finished their work on 29 July.  Now that both Houses of Parliament are in recess, we are renaming this newsletter "Catholic Union News".

A reminder that the Catholic Union will be hosting a webinar this Tuesday (4 August) with Jen Copestake and Fr Hugh MacKenzie on the future human and ethical challenges of Artificial Intelligence. More information and joining details can be found here.
 
COVID-19
 
Support from Welsh Government. The Welsh Government has granted £138,000 to the Archdiocese of Cardiff to support their ‘Staying Together While Apart’ project. The initiative helps deliver parcels, food and medical prescription to people who are self-isolating in South Wales.
 
Asylum seekers put at risk. The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has urged the Government to adapt asylum accommodations, warning that asylum seekers are at “heightened risk” of getting infected with coronavirus.
 
Impact of poverty on health. The Health Foundation has published a paper analysing the impact of poverty on health before and after the Covid-19 crisis.

Face coverings compulsory in churches from 8 August. The Prime Minister has announced that face coverings will be compulsory in places of worship and other public buildings in England from 8 August over fears of an increase in the virus.
 
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
 
Concerns over freedom of speech in Scotland. Anthony Horan, Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, has warned that the proposed Hate Crime Bill introduced by the Scottish Government could harm freedom of speech. He argued that the Bill lacks clarity, and that it could potentially make views on marriage, sexuality and gender an offence. Replying, the Scottish Government said that “The Bill continues to allow people to express controversial, challenging or offensive views, as long as this is not done in a threatening or abusive way intended or likely to stir up hatred.”

LIFE

Vaccination.  The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales have issued a paper which aims to provide clarity and assurance on the moral issues surrounding vaccination, including in relation to vaccines being produced to protect against Covid-19. 

MARRIAGE (HUMANIST)

The High Court in England dismissed a claim under Article 9 ECHR (freedom of religion or belief) supported by Humanists UK arguing that the lack of provision for humanist marriages in England and Wales was unlawful.  However, the Court accepted that there was discrimination and it was only because the Law Commission is already undertaking a wider review of marriage law that the Government was in effect given more time to address the issue. More details from the Law and Religion UK blog here.

 
PRISONS
 
Prisons must be adapted to ageing population. Sir Robert Neill MP, Chair of the House of Commons Justice Select Committee, has argued that “our jails aren't fit for the elderly”. Writing in PoliticsHome, he explains that “more work must be done to keep elderly prisoners healthy and help them rehabilitate”.
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