The British government has drafted a proposal to end the 300-year-old legal exclusion of Catholics from the British throne. MP Chris Bryant, under instructions from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has written a planned parliamentary act to revoke the exclusions.
Bryant presented the drafts to advocacy groups at a private seminar in Manchester this week, the Guardian says.
The 1688 Bill of Rights, the Act of Settlement in 1701 and the Act of Union in 1707, combined with the provisions of the Coronation Oath Act of 1688, effectively excluded Catholics or their spouses from the line of royal succession.
In recent years several royals have lost their right of succession because of their marriage to Catholics.
British law also requires the monarch to make a declaration before Parliament rejecting Catholicism upon his or her accession to the throne, the Guardian reports.
The Coronation Oath Act requires the British monarch to "maintaine the Laws of God the true profession of the Gospel and the Protestant reformed religion established by law [...] and [...] preserve unto the bishops and clergy of this realm and to the churches committed to their charge all such rights and privileges as by law do or shall appertain unto them or any of them."
Eight years ago the Guardian had launched a campaign for a change in the law, challenging the Act of Settlement on the legal grounds that it conflicts with the Human Rights Act.
Geoffrey Robinson, a constitutional lawyer who represented the Guardian in its legal challenge, argued that the centuries-old act violates the Human Rights Act’s anti-discrimination provisions and its protections of “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and the right to “peaceful enjoyment of possessions,” which he construes to mean possession of a place in the royal succession.
“The Act of Settlement determined that the crown shall descend only on Protestant heads and that anyone 'who holds communion with the church of Rome or marries a Papist' - not to mention a Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Rastafarian - is excluded by force of law,” said Robinson.
“This arcane and archaic legislation enshrined religious intolerance in the bedrock of the British constitution,” he continued. “In order to hold the office of head of state you must be white Anglo-German Protestant - a descendant of Princess Sophia of Hanover - down the male line on the feudal principle of primogeniture. This is in blatant contravention of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Act."
Any change in legislation would also require the consent of member nations of the British Commonwealth.
The legal campaign appears to be part of a challenge to hereditary monarchy altogether. According to the Guardian, Robinson said the next stage was for the government to challenge the notion of a head of state who achieved the position through inheritance.
Reform of the Act of Settlement and related laws, in some experts’ opinion, would also move Britain towards the disestablishment of the Church of England and remove the rationale for the monarchy’s religious requirements.