Britain Warming up to Women, Catholics

Here in the United States, Americans covet the part of the First Amendment which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." And, although we may argue over the constitutionality of allowing prayer in public schools, we fully appreciate significance of the rule when we look across the pond at Britain, which is still struggling to make sense of a state-run religion. The British Parliament is considering reforming the Act of Settlement -- a 308-year-old act that still governs the rules of royal succession.

In 1700 (more than 150 years after Henry VIII cleansed the country of Catholicism and established himself as the head of the Church of England), the crown was yet again in danger of turning over to a Catholic. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, a sick William III had no direct heir while the Catholic king he deposed, James II, and his supporters waited in the wings. Thus Parliament secured the fate of the crown with the Act of Settlement, which forbade future monarchs from being Catholic or marrying a Catholic.

The Irish Times reported this weekend that support is mounting for reform to change this law, and William Rees-Mogg specifies that the impending reform also seeks to end an older rule that restricts a woman's succession to the throne. Specifically, Rees-Mogg says the reform would loosen the rule that "in the absence of a direct male heir, a royal princess can succeed, but a younger brother has seniority over an elder sister."

It's hard to imagine anyone arguing against such reform in this day and age, but Rees-Mogg expresses his reservations. He's not against the reform per se, but rather argues that it's been a success historically and doesn't see any reason to rush to change it. As the whole of the commonwealth would have to approve the legislation, the issue might bring up such inevitable questions as Scottish Independence, a unified Ireland and whether Australia should become a Republic. Rees-Mogg argues that it's better to put off these issues.

In any case, I'm anxious to see if Parliament and the Queen go through with it.

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