So in a previous thread we discussed what would happen if the queen refused to assent to a bill of parliament that dissolved the monarchy. In this one I’m curious what power, either real or pretended, does the queen hold over the Church of England. As I understand it she holds the title of Supreme Governor of The Church of England. Does this mean she has any real power over the church or is it like the government where she holds only ceremonial powers.
The position is the same as it is for her “secular” political power - constitutionally, she exercises her powers in relation to the church on the advice of ministers. (And that’s “minister” in the parliamentary sense, not in the ecclesiastical sense.)
So, the Queen appoints the bishops (and a slew of other officials) of the Church of England. But she appoints whoever the Prime Minister of the day advises her to appoint. And, for obscure historical reasons, there’s another slew of slightly lower-level appointments in the Church of England which are made by the Queen on the advice of the Lord Chancellor. Both the PM and the LC have in their staff of permanent civil servants an “appointments secretary” whose job it is to research candidates and brief the PM/LC on the appointments to be made and the candidates for each. There are typical civil-servicey-type protocols for considering the candidates, consulting interested paries and stakeholders, etc, but the end result is a political recommendation by the PM or the LC to the Queen which, constitutionally, the Queen is bound to accept.
I guess what I don’t understand is how an unwritten constitution works. Is there any law that says the queen can’t exercise the rights she supposedly posses?
The unwritten law of legitimacy. As soon as the populace deem the monarch unfit or having over stepped their place, they’d be removed.
I mean what force does a written law have if the citizen chose to ignore it?
Was there any law that said that the Continental Congress has the power to absolve the colonies of their allegiance to the British Crown? And yet they did it.
Ultimately the British monarch can’t do what the British monarch can’t get away with doing. The British constitution is a blend of laws and conventions. The conventions may not be laws, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t taken seriously, and respected by those to whom they apply, and effective to shape the reality of what the crown, the ministers of the crown, etc, can and cannot legitimately do in the UK.
The U.S. has “unwritten” constitutional rules, too. For example, where is it written in the Constitution that the Supreme Court can declare that an act of the Congress is unconstitutional, and hence ineffective as law? However, the SC has given itself that right, and the executive and legislative branches have accepted this “unwritten” rule
and where in the US constitution does it say that citizens can elect the President?
Technically they don’t, do they?
And technically the UK Prime Minister of the day doesn’t choose who gets appointed to be Archbishop of Canterbury. But in both cases the reality is otherwise.
The Constitution requires even less choice than we actually have, though. So long as a state followed its own internal procedures for making the change (which might in some states be just a simple majority in each house of a gerrymandered legislature), it could legally abolish presidential elections entirely and allow the legislature to pick the electors.
Even the previous Elizabeth had to acknowledge she couldn’t just dictate church affairs on a whim. She didn’t approve of married clergy, but had to accept it as a reality; that didn’t stop her, famously asking her Archbishop’s wife how she should address her, “For Madam I may not call you, mistress I should be ashamed to call you”.
And it was attempting to impose too much on the Church of Scotland (of which the monarch is also nominal head) that led Charles I into the civil wars, and imprisoning the Church of England bishops who refused to support his Declaration of Indulgence that was one of Parliament’s grievances against James VII and II.
Also in the last decade, the political control over the Church has changed somewhat. It used to be that the Prime Minister would hand the monarch a list of candidates to a bishopric but advise the monarch of their favoured candidate. Now, the Church itself chooses (through an internal panel) and hands two names to the PM. Since 2007 the convention is that the PM always recommends to the Queen that the first name on the list be appointed.
The Queen isn’t the Head of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, but is simply another member, ‘in communion’ with it. Also she has a personal representative who attends the Kirk on her behalf - the Lord High Commissioner.
There’s only one real form of authority: when you give an order, do people obey it?
So it’s pointless to argue about what powers the British monarch has on paper. The issue is whether people would accept it if the monarch chose to exercise those powers.
I must admit I hadn’t thought anything about it, but the idea of a hereditary head of a church is more mystifying that a hereditary head of state. What if the queen is an atheist who thinks the dogma of her church is nonsense?
Could the queen “abdicate” being the head of the church while remaining the head of state? In a case like that, who would be the successor?
And why is there any linkage at all between the two roles? Is it some kind of tacit acknowledgement that accepting the dictates of a hereditary head of state requires some form of acceptance that the royals have some divine right to rule?
I imagine if that happened then we’d get around to disestablishing the church. Until then, it’s not something anyone’s bothered about.
Not without an Act of Parliament to repealing the remaining Clause of the 1559 Act of Supremacy - Section 8:
Yes - at least, in the past. When the Reformation took place one of the long-standing grumblings of the English monarchy had been that their power to manage the church was frustrated by that interfering busybody in Rome who walked around in a dress. As the church was enormously powerful, as a means of governing, communicating and teaching, the monarchy wanted access to its resources.
James I/VI was particularly convinced that church and monarchy were joined at the hip, and was deeply hostile to attempts by Puritans to Presbyterianise the Anglican church, famously saying ‘no bishops, no king’. He believed in the divine right of kings, a doctrine which the Episcopal Church of England was happy to peddle on his behalf. His son Charles I was an even fiercer Episcopalian, but his rigid adherence to the doctrine against the facts of the age cost him his life.
Divine right endured for another half-century until essential put paid to by the Glorious Revolution, but the Anglican Church was still important as a means of popular control, but also because the populace were fiercely proud of it - it was a powerful totemic symbol for the English, much as the Scots felt about their church.
Nowadays however those motivations have little weight, and it’s little more than a constitutional legacy that few notice and fewer care about. England is a secular state by and large despite the presence of clerics in the House of Lords, and the Anglican Church is relatively liberal and open-minded. Until the Church does something sufficiently divisive that it animates enough people to disestablish it, it’s our established Church by default.
Can the Anglican church BE disestablished by an act of Parliament?
Yep. Why would it not be?
Why? Because the religious nuts, however few or numerous they are, would just continue on with their worship. I have no idea whether Vatican City, say, could disestablish the Catholic church, and even if it could it would hardly make a difference. I guess their rent would skyrocket, though.
Since “establishment” only means certain legal privileges and obligations* over and above those of any ordinary voluntary association, then only Parliament could undo that.
*Membership of the Lords for a number of bishops, state involvement in top church appointments, and automatic status as marriage registrars for ordained clergy - plus the obligation to be available to all, not just members, for baptisms, weddings and funerals. Pretty well all other church decisions are devolved to the church and its synods.
I suppose there’d be a question-mark over the status of coronation services, and whether the Church should be used to administer the oath and go through the symbolic ceremonials on behalf of the state.