Act of Settlement reform unites Roman Catholics and Secularists
This is among the strangest of alliances: the union of Dr Evan Harris MP, the Liberal Democrat pro-abortion fundamentalist secularist who wishes to eradicate every expression of Christianity from the public sphere; and Edward Leigh MP, the ‘pro-life’ Roman Catholic Conservative whose ‘faith, flag and family’ is fundamentally antithetical to all that Dr
While unemployment soars at its fastest rate since records began; while repossessions cause thousands of families to lose their homes; while bankruptcies increase and poverty abounds, the Liberal Democrats are obsessing about the Act of Settlement – the 300-year-old law which prevents the Monarch from being or from marrying a Roman Catholic.
Dr Harris is introducing a Private Member’s Bill to end the ‘antiquated’ concept of primogeniture and the Act's 'anti-Catholic' discrimination. Yet the Royal Marriages and Succession to the Crown (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill can only have effect some 60, 70, or – if Prince William lives as long as his great grandmother – 80 years from now. And only then if William's consort gives birth to a girl first, and only then if his first-born decides to marry a Roman Catholic.
This is a curious priority for the Liberal Democrats. It will involve lengthy debate upon and the amendment of nine other constitutional Acts (including the Act of Union), taking up thousands of hours of parliamentary time. It will also require the consent of the legislatures of 15 Commonwealth countries, and is fraught with complexity at every turn.
But 'the PM and Palace' are discussing it.
The Act of Settlement is – as the BBC asserts in its usual anti-Anglican fashion – ‘discriminatory’ and ‘unfair’. It has carried out a survey, and discovered that 89 per cent of the 1000 people questioned believed male and female heirs should have equal rights to succeed to the throne. Some 81 per cent believed that an heir to the throne should be allowed to marry a Roman Catholic and still become monarch. According to the poll, 76 per cent said the monarchy should continue, against 18 per cent who said they would favour Britain becoming a republic. An additional 6 per cent said they did not know.
Cranmer has not seen the questions which were asked in order to yield these statistics, but his readers and communicants will be fully cognisant of the fact that responses are dependent on the precise questions posed.
Of course it is ‘unfair’ and ‘discriminatory’ that the monarch may not be or marry a Roman Catholic, but the very act of choosing a religion manifestly necessitates discrimination against all the others. It is also ‘discriminatory’ that the Pope may not be Protestant, and even more ‘unfair’ that he may not marry at all. But there are sound theological and historical justifications for the restrictions upon both the King of the Vatican and the Queen of the United Kingdom, and none of these amount to a violation of their ‘human rights’. Prince William is perfectly free to marry a Roman Catholic should he so desire: that it is human right. He is not then free to be King and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, but to be King is not a human right; it is the gift of Parliament.
It is difficult to view ‘historic injustices’ through the lens of the present, as Dr Harris is intent on doing. It is a realm about which he manifestly knows very little. The Protestant Christian faith is woven into the fabric of this nation’s life; it secured its liberties and forged its identity. But the Constitution is a fragile work of many delicate threads, and the tampering with one – and the Act of Settlement is a very crucial one – risks producing many loose ends and the eventual unravelling of the entire work.
Dr Evan Harris knows this. He is fully aware – though he denies it – that the relationship between the Monarch and the Church rests upon this Act. Once that relationship is fractured, it will lead inexorably to the secular republic which Dr Harris espouses.
So why is Edward Leigh supporting this?
It is strange indeed. For there are very many loyal Roman Catholics who are quite prepared to tolerate a little residual anti-Catholicism within the state if this is the price one pays for sustaining a Christian presence at the heart of Government. His desire to end the discrimination is doubtless sincere, but then he must address those cruel discriminations within his own faith, such as the one which caused Tony Blair to be barred by Cardinal Basil Hume from taking communion at Westminster Cathedral.
Contrary to popular belief, the Monarch is not free to be any religion or marry into any religion except the Roman Catholic one. For the Act of Settlement requires the Monarch and his or her consort to be ‘in communion with’ the Church of England. While Cranmer could write more than a few pages on the meaning of ‘koinonia’ in this context, it must be noted that it is not only Roman Catholics who are prohibited from taking bread and wine in Anglican churches: Dr Harris and Edward Leigh might just consider that Jews and Muslims would also find this unacceptable, and so adherents to many other faiths bar themselves from being ‘in communion with’ the state Church.
The Act was forged during an era of intolerable foreign interference in the governance of England. Edward Leigh would do better if, instead of uniting with the most rabidly pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, anti-Christian member of the House of Commons, he reflected upon the liberties assured by this Act, and asked himself why our forebears insisted that its provisions should be ‘for ever’. Cranmer would also humbly urge him to reflect upon the consequences for the future of the Monarchy of the tampering with that clause which stipulates that should the religious restrictions cease to have effect, that 'in all and every such case and cases the people of these realms shall be and are thereby absolved of their allegiance'.
Evan Harris is an honorary associate of the National Secular Society, and is no fool.