The Coalition Government is currently asking voters to nominate laws which they think restrict civil liberties and should be abolished or amended.
Loading article content
The suggestions will form the basis of the so-called Freedom Bill, announced with much fanfare by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, earlier this year.
At the same time, however, ministers have said that they have no plans to change the Act of Settlement, which also bars members of the Royal family marrying Catholics.
Angus MacNeil, the SNP MP for the Western Isles, has called for a mass online vote for a change in the law, which he denounced as “state sectarianism”, ahead of the Pope’s visit.
Introduced in 1701, the Act of Settlement states that no sovereign “shall profess the Popish religion or shall marry a Papist”.
The exclusion of Catholics was designed to ensure a stable monarchy, after decades of rows over the state religion.
More than three centuries since its inception, it continues to affect the Royal family.
In 1978, Prince Michael of Kent, the Queen’s cousin, lost his place in the line of succession after marrying a Catholic.
Just two years ago, Autumn Kelly, a Canadian and the new wife of Peter Phillips, the Queen’s grandson, renounced her Catholic faith to allow her husband to remain in succession.
Before he became Prime Minister, David Cameron indicated that he would like to see the Act changed.
But within weeks of the coalition taking charge in May, it was announced that there were “no current plans” to amend it.
This triggered a furious re-action from Scottish Catholic leaders, who accused ministers of backtracking.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of Scotland’s Catholics, and Joseph Devine, the Bishop of Motherwell, both accused Mr Cameron of discrimination and “arrogance” over the decision.
With the Pope’s visit due to start in just over a fortnight, Mr MacNeil said that now was the time for the law to be changed.
“The Act of Settlement represents clear institutional discrimination against millions of our fellow citizens, and the Coalition Government’s refusal to consider its repeal is lamentable,” he said.
“Nick Clegg has lauded the Freedom Bill, and fancies himself as a great reformer, but his words are not matched by actions or even intentions.
“There is no better example of an outdated law that should be removed from the statute book and, with Pope Benedict visiting next month, we need to put this on the agenda,” added Mr MacNeil. “This is an issue of cross-party and cross-faith concern.
“The Act is state sectarianism and has no place in a modern society.”
He added that there had been a groundswell of support for a repeal of the Act in recent years, including from the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Government and the Catholic Church in Scotland.
“Changing the Act of Settlement allows us to deal with a fundamental issue of discrimination; it enables us to state clearly that discrimination is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in a modern country,” he said.
Poster campaign backs call for women priests
A poster campaign demanding that the Catholic Church ordains women has been launched to coincide with the Pope’s visit to Britain.
Posters with the slogan Pope Benedict Ordain Women Now! will be displayed on buses in central London for a month.
The group Catholic Women’s Ordination (CWO) is behind the campaign. Spokeswoman Pat Brown claimed the Church was attempting to gag Catholics over the issue.
She claimed a number of priests are members of the campaign but keep this secret for fear of disciplinary action.
Ms Brown added that she knew people who worked for the Catholic Church, including a teacher in Catholic school, who were told to end their membership of CWO. “We are forbidden from discussing this issue in public; we cannot hold debates in church halls for example,” Ms Brown said.
“This is why we are forced to take such extreme measures.
“Obviously, we think women should be ordained, we believe women are called, but we think that there should be discussion about it.”