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The Church of England: Britain's State Church

The Church of Privilege

State Church logo

"I accept Your Majesty as the sole source of ecclesiastical, spiritual and temporal power."
The oath of loyalty sworn by Church of England bishops


Seats in legislature: 26
Value of investment portfolio: £8.3bn (2018)
Return on assets: 17.1% (2016)
Annual investment income: £231m (2016)
Hedge fund investments: 10% of total assets (2011)
Private equity: 12% return on investments (2011)
Property, loans, short-term deposits: £1.8bn
Central land holdings: 112,000 acres
Local land holdings: 129,000 acres (Financial Times estimate)
Nominal members (UK): 9.84m (Population 65.64m)
Average weekly church attendance (UK): 1.1m
Average Sunday church attendance (UK): 944,000 (Average Catholic Church attendance 869,221)
Members worldwide: 70M
Church attenders worldwide: 25M

In April 2014 Prime Minister David Cameron called for a continuation of religious discrimination in Britain. That he was able to do so without fear of the consequences tells us as much about the degraded state of Britain's democracy as it does of religious privilege.

In response to a statement by his deputy Nick Clegg that the privileged status of the Anglican church should be ended, Cameron claimed that “Our arrangements work well. As I've said before, we're a Christian country, we have an established church”. Cameron is a member of that established church.

The Conservative leader was supported by another Conservative MP, Garry Street of Christians in Parliament. Streeter declared “It isn't really broke, so don't try and fix it”.

Minority Church Is State Church

Although only about 15 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom are followers of the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church, it has the status of state church. It is the “established” church and is allowed to appoint 26 legislators to seats in the House of Lords.

The archbishops of two diocese and the bishops of three other diocese automatically have a seat in the legislature. The other twenty-one are the longest serving of the other bishops.

The Church of Scotland is the national church of Scotland but it is not a state church and cannot appoint legislators either to the UK or Scottish parliaments.

Like the so-called "royal" family and the lords, the Church of England is given indefensible privileges, though no longer can it compell citizens to attend its services.

The head of state is required to be a member of that church and not marry a Catholic. That person is also the titular head of the Church of England.

She or he has the right, which is exercised through the Prime Minister, to appoint the head of the Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other senior officers of the church. When a new Archbishop is required a Crown Appointments Commission sends two names to the Prime Minister at the end of a secretive process. The Prime Minister then forwards one to the monarch for appointment as chief bishop, or refers both back to the Commission. In 2002 a High Court judge was chosen to head the commission in its search for a new archbishop.

The privileged role of the church in government dates from the fourteenth century. The last time that a limit was last placed on the power of the Anglican bishops was in 1847. Then the Bishopric of Manchester Act restricted the number of clerical legislators to the current twenty six.

The justification given by the church for this privilege is that "is an extension of their general vocation as bishops to preach God's word and to lead people in prayer".

A Church Divided

Besides the Church of England there are 36 Anglican churches worldwide. But they are deeply divided, particularly on gay rights.

In response to this the leader of the British church, Justin Welby, said in 2015 that "A 21st century Anglican family must have space for deep disagreement and even mutual criticism so long as we are faithful to the revelation of Jesus Christ".

So it seems that this organisation, as unprincipled as ever, believes that it is acceptable to be pro-gay rights and acceptable to be anti-gay rights, and that both attitudes are "faithful to the revelation of Jesus Christ", just as long as you wrap the whole thing up in fine words.

Special Protection

The Church continues to benefit from the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act of 1860. This makes it an offence in England for a person to be riotous, violent or guilty of indecent behaviour (includes interrupting, shouting and creating a disturbance) in any church, cathedral or chapel of the Church of England.

The Church Commissioners: Church & State United

Thirty-three Church Commissioners manage the property and stock market assets of the Church of England. Six of these commissioners, who have ex-officio status, hold state office. They include the prime minister and the sport & culture minister. All the commissioners are accountable to Parliament, to which they make an annual report, as well as to the General Synod of the Church of England.

The Church is represented directly in the House of Commons by the Second Church Estates Commissioner, who is also an MP with what may be conflicting duties towards constituents. This individual is appointed by the "Crown" on the advice of the Prime Minister. Only members of the Church of England are eligible to hold the position and when appointed she or he becomes an ex-officio member of the church's General Synod. The Commissioner is responsible for answering the questions of MPs about the state church. And, in the words of that church, "steers Church of England legislation through the House of Commons".

Crimes Against the Church

In July 2008 the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished. But from 1838 they gave privileged protection to the "tenets and beliefs of the Church of England" only. Even in 2008 the state church was divided on the legislation that ended this privilege. According to the National Secular Society some bishop-legislators said “that the abolition was unnecessary and undesirable and others (said) that it was inevitable and that the Church should therefore concede”.

Church Faculty Has Medieval Powers

Little that is unfair or undemocratic in the British kingdom should cause surprise. And yet it is extraordinary that if you want to act as a notary in England and Wales you need the approval of the state church, the Church of England.

The democratic principle of separation of state and church is treated with contempt.

The more than 760 notaries in those two jurisdictions are regulated by the Faculty Office of the state church. So if you are an atheist, Catholic, Muslim, Methodist or of any other belief, you must seek permission from the Anglican Church before you may pursue this vocation.

This power has its origin in the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533. According to the Faculty Office this Act transferred to the Archbishop of Canterbury the power to grant "all namer licences, dispensacions, faculties, composicions, delegacies, rescriptes, instrumentes or wrytynges have byn accustomed to be had at the see of Rome".

This feudal privilege has not been tossed aside. Instead it was confirmed by the Courts and Legal Services Act of 1990 and the Legal Services Act 2007.

Feudal Privilege, Not Human Right

The Churche's feudal status gives it other privileges,

In modern times one unfortunate couple found out how unscrupulous the church can be when the Anglicans decided to use a feudal law to extract £230,00 from them to repair one of its churches.

Gail and Andrew Wallbank also lost £250,000 in legal expenses as the Anglicans fought for the money all the way to the supreme court.

Gail Wallbank inherited Glebe Farm in the 1980s. In 1990 the Parochial Church Council wrote to them demanding that they pay for the repair of a part of the local church building known as a chancel.

The Church could make this demand because a medieval law that required local people to contribute to the upkeep of the church. The Wallbanks’ farm included 7 acres of land that still had that requirement attached to it. It has been estimated that there are 3.5m more acres that are covered by similar requirements that the state church could enforce to boost its finances

The couple believed that if they paid the Church of England it would come back year after year for more. So instead of playing the part of serfs, as the feudal Church demanded, they fought all the way in the courts.

After 18 years of litigation the feudal Church beat the Wallbanks in another feudal institution, the House of Lords. Until 2009 the supreme court was a part of that legislative chamber.

The “ Law Lords” overruled an Appeal Court decision that the Church had breached the Wallbanks’ human rights with its unreasonable demands for money. Because Parochial Church Councils, although part of a state church, are not considered to be public bodies they are exempt from human rights guarantees said the highest court of appeal.

When they lost the Wallbanks had to sell their home to meet pay the Church and their legal fees

Gail Wallbank told the Daily Express that what the Anglicans had done was “completely against Christian principles”.

2 The Church and enslavement.
3 The funding of the faithful.
4 The case for disestablishment.
5 Who's for and who's against.
6 An alternative way: the American way.
7 The road to privilege - a short history of the Church of England.
1 A Church in bed with the state.

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