|Citation 37 & 38 Vict. c.85||Royal assent 7 August 1874|
|Long title An Act for the better administration of the Laws respecting the regulation of Public Worship.|
Introduced by Archbishop of Canterbury Archibald Campbell Tait, 20 April 1874, private member's bill
Territorial extent England, Channel Islands, Isle of Man
Commencement 1 July 1875 (1875-07-01)
The Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 (37 & 38 Vict. c.85) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, introduced as a Private Member's Bill by Archbishop of Canterbury Archibald Campbell Tait, to limit what he perceived as the growing ritualism of Anglo-Catholicism and the Oxford Movement within the Church of England.
Tait's bill was controversial. It was given government backing by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who called it "a bill to put down ritualism". He referred to the practices of the Oxford Movement as "a mass in masquerade." Queen Victoria was supportive of the Act's Protestant intentions. Liberal leader William Ewart Gladstone, a high church Anglican whose sympathies were for separation of church and state, felt disgusted that the liturgy was made, as he saw it, "a parliamentary football."
Before the Act, the Church of England regulated its worship practices through the Court of Arches with appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Act established a new court, presided over by former Divorce Court judge Lord Penzance. Many citizens were scandalised by parliamentary interference with worship and, moreover, by its proposed supervision by a secular court. The act gave bishops the discretionary power to order a stay of proceedings.
Section 8 of the Act allowed an archdeacon, church warden or three adult male parishioners of a parish to serve on the bishop a representation that in their opinion:
The bishop had the discretion to stay proceedings but, if he allowed them to proceed, the parties had the opportunity to submit to his direction with no right of appeal. The bishop was able to issue a monition, but if the parties did not agree to his jurisdiction, then the matter was to be sent for trial (section 9).
The Act provided a casus belli for the Anglo-Catholic English Church Union and the evangelical Church Association. Many clergy were brought to trial and five ultimately imprisoned for contempt of court.
List of clergy imprisoned
Prosecutions ended when a Royal Commission in 1906 recognised the legitimacy of pluralism in worship, but the Act remained in force for 91 years until it was repealed on 1 March 1965 by the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963.
The Act purported to extend to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. As these were Crown dependencies, there was a separate question as to the power of Parliament of the United Kingdom to legislate for them. It was a confused and controversial matter (see Crown dependencies: Relationship with the UK).