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The Secularist will case

by
24 April 2015

April 23rd, 1915.

[A bequest had been challenged in court on the ground that it was illegal under the Blasphemy Law and void as being against public policy. The judge would not allow evidence to be submitted that the Secular Society "was a mere dummy to obtain legacies for the National Secular Society, which was more avowedly atheistic".]

THE decision of Mr Justice Joyce in re Bowman, which we report at length elsewhere, is of considerable historical interest. A testator had left his residuary estate to the Secular Society, Limited, a Society which has Mr Foote for its president. The Society boasts a somewhat colourless Memorandum which, however, it is difficult to reconcile with Christianity. The next of kin of the testator attempted to set the gift aside; but this attempt failed, Mr Justice Joyce deciding that the objects of the Society are not contrary to morality. The question, however, is whether they are contrary to Christianity. Cases as late as the Victorian epoch have decided that such gifts are invalid. Probably the case will be appealed; but the judgment shows that the Chancery Division of the High Court has been affected by the wave of opinion which has modified the Blasphemy Law, finding a punishable offence no longer in a denial of Christianity, but only in a denial couched in vulgar and offensive language. It is now more ridiculous than ever to say that Christianity is part of the Common Law of England.

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