Lord Carey says blasphemy laws should go - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
October 21, 2005

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Lord Carey says blasphemy laws should go

-21/10/05

Dr Rowan Williamsí predecessor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, has said that the UKís blasphemy laws ñ which protect only Christians ñ are redundant and should go.

He has been backed by the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia, which says that granting special privileges to faith does it no favours and restricts the free flow of argument needed on religious issues.

Lord Careyís remarks came in the wake of the continuing debate about the controversial bill seeking to outlaw incitement to racial and religious hatred, which returns to the House of Lords next week.

The former archbishop, who is widely seen as one of the more conservative and establishment figures in the Church of England, indicated that he would be willing to back an amendment by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury scrapping the existing blasphemy law.

Lord Carey declared: ìI donít think within the Church of England there will be much opposition. It seems to me that the time has come to look at it very critically and to say itís redundant.î

He added that such a move would ìeven out the playing fieldî in public life.

In bringing forward their incitement to religious hatred legislation, the government had originally indicated a willingness to get rid of Britainís antiquated blasphemy law, but then backed down on this.

Opponents of the bill, who believe it is an affront to free speech, fear that it is a back-door route to widen the definition of blasphemy to include a wider range of religions.

The UK Christian think tank Ekklesia promptly welcomed Lord Careyís intervention.

ìIn a society open to those of all religions and none, people of faith should not seek to control what others say about them and their beliefs, even if they are deeply offendedî, said Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

He explained: ìRespect for religious belief cannot be imposed. Instead of censoring others, Christians and those of different faith communities should seek to commend their convictions through the truthfulness and peacefulness of their lives.î

M Barrow pointed out that for Christians there was a particular reason to oppose blasphemy trials ñ which was that Jesus himself was condemned for his subversive words and deeds by both the religious and political authorities of time.

He added: ìFaith groups need to learn to respond to scorn with reason and compassion, rather than to lash out or to seek special protection from the law. But we also need to be sympathetic towards those who feel threatened when they are attacked or derided.î

A spokesperson for the Church of Englandís General Synod (its governing authority) told the Guardian newspaper today that the Church was unlikely to oppose the repeal of the blasphemy law ìprovided something else was in place beforehandî.

This is likely to be interpreted by opponents of the bill on incitement to religious hatred as indicating that it is still being seen as a blasphemy surrogate.

Meanwhile, according to the Guardian, Lord Carey also revealed that he enjoyed the Monty Python film ëLife of Brianí (which was condemned by church leaders at the time) and did not object to Jerry Springer ñ The Opera.

The Springer opera faced loud and threatening protests from Christian groups when it was shown on BBC television after a successful West End and fringe theatre run. However its broadcast was defended by Ekklesia and by the Christian Herald newspaper.

Lord Carey added yesterday that ìitís good for religion to be knocked and challengedÖ we may need that criticism.î

Lord Avebury, who is introducing the amendment in the House of Lords, is a long-standing campaigner for human rights, refugees and freedom of speech. He is respected across the political spectrum.

[Also on Ekklesia: God and the politicians ñ where next?]

Find books now:

Lord Carey says blasphemy laws should go

-21/10/05

Dr Rowan Williams' predecessor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, has said that the UK's blasphemy laws - which protect only Christians - are redundant and should go.

He has been backed by the UK Christian think-tank Ekklesia, which says that granting special privileges to faith does it no favours and restricts the free flow of argument needed on religious issues.

Lord Carey's remarks came in the wake of the continuing debate about the controversial bill seeking to outlaw incitement to racial and religious hatred, which returns to the House of Lords next week.

The former archbishop, who is widely seen as one of the more conservative and establishment figures in the Church of England, indicated that he would be willing to back an amendment by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury scrapping the existing blasphemy law.

Lord Carey declared: 'I don't think within the Church of England there will be much opposition. It seems to me that the time has come to look at it very critically and to say it's redundant.'

He added that such a move would 'even out the playing field' in public life.

In bringing forward their incitement to religious hatred legislation, the government had originally indicated a willingness to get rid of Britain's antiquated blasphemy law, but then backed down on this.

Opponents of the bill, who believe it is an affront to free speech, fear that it is a back-door route to widen the definition of blasphemy to include a wider range of religions.

The UK Christian think tank Ekklesia promptly welcomed Lord Carey's intervention.

'In a society open to those of all religions and none, people of faith should not seek to control what others say about them and their beliefs, even if they are deeply offended', said Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

He explained: 'Respect for religious belief cannot be imposed. Instead of censoring others, Christians and those of different faith communities should seek to commend their convictions through the truthfulness and peacefulness of their lives.'

M Barrow pointed out that for Christians there was a particular reason to oppose blasphemy trials - which was that Jesus himself was condemned for his subversive words and deeds by both the religious and political authorities of time.

He added: 'Faith groups need to learn to respond to scorn with reason and compassion, rather than to lash out or to seek special protection from the law. But we also need to be sympathetic towards those who feel threatened when they are attacked or derided.'

A spokesperson for the Church of England's General Synod (its governing authority) told the Guardian newspaper today that the Church was unlikely to oppose the repeal of the blasphemy law 'provided something else was in place beforehand'.

This is likely to be interpreted by opponents of the bill on incitement to religious hatred as indicating that it is still being seen as a blasphemy surrogate.

Meanwhile, according to the Guardian, Lord Carey also revealed that he enjoyed the Monty Python film ëLife of Brian' (which was condemned by church leaders at the time) and did not object to Jerry Springer - The Opera.

The Springer opera faced loud and threatening protests from Christian groups when it was shown on BBC television after a successful West End and fringe theatre run. However its broadcast was defended by Ekklesia and by the Christian Herald newspaper.

Lord Carey added yesterday that 'it's good for religion to be knocked and challengedÖ we may need that criticism.'

Lord Avebury, who is introducing the amendment in the House of Lords, is a long-standing campaigner for human rights, refugees and freedom of speech. He is respected across the political spectrum.

[Also on Ekklesia: God and the politicians - where next?]

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