In the United Kingdom, The Queen’s title includes the words ‘Defender of the Faith’. This means Her Majesty has a specific role in both the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. As established Churches, they are recognised by law as the official Churches of England and Scotland, respectively. In both England and Scotland, the established Churches are subject to the regulation of law. The principle of religious toleration is fully recognised both for those of other creeds and for those without any religious beliefs. There are no established Churches in Northern Ireland nor in Wales. They were disestablished in 1869 in Northern Ireland and 1920 in Wales. There is no established Church in any Commonwealth country of which The Queen is the monarch (i.e. a realm). In addition to playing a role in the Churches of England and Scotland, The Queen recognises and supports the various other faiths practised in the UK and Commonwealth.
The Church of England and the monarch’s relation to it was established through a series of Parliamentary Acts in the 1530s, which brought about the English Reformation. Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church by denying papal claims to ecclesiastical or any other jurisdiction, and by declaring himself rather than the Pope as Supreme Head of the Church in England. The Sovereign’s relationship to the Church of Scotland is different. Since 1707, the British Monarch has been required by the Treaty of Union to preserve the Church of Scotland, Scotland’s established Church. The Queen is therefore not the Supreme Governor of the Church of Scotland, but an ordinary member.
“The Sovereign holds the title ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’. There are many examples of the relationship between the established Church and the State. Archbishops and bishops are appointed by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, who considers the names selected by a Church Commission. They take an oath of allegiance to The Queen on appointment and may not resign without Royal authority. The connection between Church and State is also symbolised by the fact that the ‘Lords Spiritual’ (consisting of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and 24 diocesan bishops) sit in the House of Lords. Parish priests also take an oath of allegiance to The Queen. The General Synod (including the bishops, elected representatives from the clergy and the laity) is the supreme authority of the Church of England. The Queen opens the Synod after the elections in the dioceses every five years.
Since 1919, the Synod (formerly called the Church Assembly) has had the power to pass Measures on any matter concerning the Church of England. Following acceptance of the Measures by both Houses of Parliament (which cannot amend them), they are submitted for Royal Assent and become law. In addition to legislating for the Church by Measure, the General Synod has the power to legislate by Canon in its own domestic affairs such as worship and doctrine, but The Queen’s assent is required for the promulgation of such Canons. Such assent is given on the Home Secretary’s advice. In his or her coronation oath, the Sovereign promises to maintain the Church. The Sovereign must be in communion with the Church of England, that is, a full confirmed member. The Preface to the 39 Articles of the Church of England describes the monarch as ‘being by God’s Ordinance, according to Our just Title, Defender of the Faith and … Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
“Its supreme authority is the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, presided over by a Moderator chosen each year by the Assembly itself. The monarch takes an oath to preserve the Church of Scotland at the meeting of the Privy Council immediately following his or her accession. The Crown is represented at the Assembly, sometimes by the monarch in person, but more often by a Lord High Commissioner appointed each year by The Queen. Provided that it acts within the law of the land, the Assembly has the power to pass resolutions which can have effect without Royal Assent.
“Modern Britain is a multi-cultural, multi-faith society, made up of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs and people of other faiths. The Commonwealth is also made up of peoples with different religious beliefs. The Queen’s role as Head of State and Head of Commonwealth is to respect and recognise these various faiths and to promote tolerance and understanding between people of different religions. This is reflected in The Queen’s Christmas and Commonwealth broadcast speeches, which have often addressed the theme of religious tolerance. In her Christmas Message in 2004, for example, The Queen remarked: “Everyone is our neighbour, no matter what race, creed or colour.”
Members of different denominations faiths are represented at major Royal ceremonial occasions with a religious dimension – for example, weddings, funerals and services of thanksgiving. The Queen has also hosted a number of events which bring representatives of all denominations and faiths together – for example, a reception at Buckingham Palace for leaders of different religions in 2002. Although Supreme Governor of the Church of England, throughout her reign The Queen has recognised other denominations within the Christian faith, attending various ecumenical gatherings and services. During the course of her visits throughout the UK and overseas, The Queen has visited the places of worship of many different faiths, meeting religious leaders and worshippers.
In 2002 The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh visited Highgate Hill Murugan Hindu Temple in North London. In the same year, The Queen met worshippers at a community mosque in Scunthorpe. In 2006 The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh attended a reception to mark the 350th anniversary of the Jewish Community in Great Britain at St James’s Palace, London. In 2008 The Queen visited the Green Mosque during a State visit to Turkey. The Prince of Wales has long called for an acknowledgement of the strengths of other religious traditions, and for greater mutual understanding amongst the adherents of the world’s different faiths. The Prince’s efforts to foster a greater understanding between Islam and the West have attracted particular attention. His Royal Highness has been Patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies since 1993. The Prince of Wales has also demonstrated his respect for the other faiths by visiting their holy places and places of worship, including the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Sikh Temple in Southall, opened in June 2003 and the Bevis Marks synagogue in central London.