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The Lords Spiritual


York Cathedral
Image: Beautiful Britain

As you know, Parliament is now considering the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which if approved will end the independence of the British people. In what has been described as sheer stupidity or deliberate treachery, Parliament is on the verge of approving the treaty. The members of the House of Lords - the Lords Temporal and the Lords Spiritual as they are called - will vote on it shortly. The Lords Spiritual -the bishops and archbishops - have a special responsibility to the people. The bishop's special responsibility springs from a special history which may be little known even to the bishops. In a recent letter to each of them, we wrote -

Dear Bishop,

In Britain, bishops have done Christ’s work by defending the people's freedoms and their right to justice for more than a thousand years.

Bishops helped to frame the Charter of Liberties in AD 1100, establishing the radical principle that no person is above the law, not even the king.

St Dunstan wrote the Coronation Oath and established the covenant between the sovereign and the people whereby the sovereign swears to give justice to the people.

Archbishop Anselm and the bishops and abbots met in 1102 at the Council of Westminster and declared an end to slavery in England because they believed that God wanted his children to be free.

Archbishop Stephen Langton reminded the knight-barons in 1213 that the Charter of Liberties (which had slipped from memory) protected a person's right to justice according to the laws of St Edward the Confessor. When King John refused to confirm the Charter, the knight-barons revolted. Many bishops and abbots joined them and – an overlooked fact – so did the merchants, artisans and working class people of London. Archbishop Langton refused to obey the Pope’s order to excommunicate the rebels, and he declined to surrender the strategically important castle of Rochester to King John. Among other rights in Magna Carta, Langton defended the people’s right to common lands.

Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, helped the Scottish lords to draft the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 when they affirmed, “It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself”.

The Lords Spiritual supported the Bill of Rights 1689. Historians view the Bill of Rights as the inspiration for the American Bill of Rights and the Canadian, Australian, Irish and New Zealand constitutions. Indeed, it is fundamental to the rights and freedoms that the British hold today under the British Constitution and their constitutional monarch, HM Queen Elizabeth II.

These abbots, bishops and archbishops were Christians who defended the people and they were patriots. Why do I call them patriots?

I mean that they believed in justice for the poor and vulnerable, and they affirmed that the people should not be ruled by a remote foreign power that knew little about their affairs. Britain has long depended on Christian men and women to be the institutional memory of their rights and freedoms, to take courageous and strategically important decisions, and to work toward establishing and defending just law and representative government.

The British people understand that for power to be accountable it must be democratic, and as local as possible. We have been told that the European Union will help maintain peace, and we note that democracies are generally peaceful and that wars mostly occur when democracy is absent. We are concerned that the lack of democracy in the European Union will lead to civil unrest and war. As regards legal justice, the European suprastate will override British common law with corpus juris, which is based on the top-down dictates of Napoleon and his successors, not on the British Constitution created by British Christians.

The remoteness of the European Union from the people, its lack of fiscal accountability and its domineering ways are increasingly remarked. Even if you do not believe this to be the case, it is a fact that the British people wish to be able to vote in the promised referendum on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty because the Treaty is a constitutional settlement that is virtually the same as the previous iteration of the EU constitution.

All three parties promised the people a referendum on that constitutional settlement. Christ taught us the power and duty of keeping promises.

I urge you to bear witness to the legacy of justice and freedom under the law established by the people of Britain with the help of their bishops, abbots and archbishops, and to speak truth to power by supporting the people’s right to a referendum.

Yours sincerely,

This would be a good time to call the bishop of your diocese and urge him (they are all men) to reject the Lisbon Treaty.