The fraught relationship between Church and State is not among the new government's highest priorities. But a ruling from the Court of Appeal at the end of April should have warned ministers that they ignore these tensions at their peril.
On the face of it, the issue was whether a Christian relationship counsellor was lawfully dismissed for refusing to provide psycho-sexual counselling to same-sex couples. Gary McFarlane claimed he had been the victim of indirect religious discrimination. He accepted that counselling clients regardless of their sexual orientation was a legitimate aim for his employer, Relate Avon. But he argued that the rule had been applied to him in a disproportionate way. In his view, he should have been allowed to counsel only heterosexual couples.
The problem he faced was that a similar argument had recently been dismissed by the Court of Appeal in a claim brought by Lillian Ladele, a Christian registrar who had refused to register civil partnerships because of her view of marriage.
For McFarlane to have won his discrimination claim he would have to have shown that the Ladele judgment was reached per incuriam — in other words, wrongly decided by a court that had ignored its own earlier decisions. This is difficult to establish and there was little surprise when that claim failed. But McFarlane had another, more disturbing, argument. He produced a witness statement from Lord Carey of Clifton in which the former Archbishop of Canterbury referred by name to six members of the Court of Appeal. Those judges, Carey maintained, "should recuse themselves from further adjudication on such matters as they have made clear their lack of knowledge about the Christian faith".
Three of the six are Jewish, at least by descent. They included the two most senior judges in the Ladele case as well as the presiding judge of the court that dismissed an appeal by Nadia Eweida — a Christian who challenged British Airways over a policy, subsequently withdrawn, that stopped her wearing a cross with her uniform.
In calling for the creation of a "specialist panel of judges designated to hear cases engaging religious rights" — and saying the judges "should have a proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues" — Carey was not, of course, arguing that Jews could never decide such cases. "I would be supportive of judges of all faiths and denominations being allocated to such a panel," he told the court.