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Archbishop’s Call For More Law To Protect Religion Is 'Self-Serving And Dangerous'

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s call today for special protection for religious sensibilities was dismissed as “self-serving and dangerous” by the National Secular Society.

Responding to Dr Williams’ delivery of the James Callaghan Memorial Lecture today, Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said that the Archbishop’s speech was a blatant pitch for new legislation to replace the blasphemy laws that the Government is planning to scrap. A consultation is going on at present with the Church of England about this.

“It is as if the prolonged and widespread debate on the recently-introduced religious hatred legislation had never happened,” said Mr Sanderson. “Dr Williams takes us right back to the beginning with his special pleading for the protection of religious feelings – in other words, another form of blasphemy law that would be even worse than the one we’re about to ditch.”

Mr Sanderson pointed out that the Racial and Religious Hatred Act – which had been under consideration for five years - was now on the statute book. It was enacted only after a great deal of bitter dispute between religious interests and those who feared for free speech.

“There is also now in law a concept of religious aggravation that can be applied to some public order offences. It carries a potential prison sentence of seven years. This is Draconian and extreme by any measure– and now the Archbishop appears to want something else.”

Mr Sanderson said that the Archbishop appeared in his speech to be making excuses for those who rioted about the Salman Rushdie case and threatened the author with death. He also seems to think that those who created lethal street protests over the Danish cartoons had a point. “The Archbishop’s speech is, at base, self-serving and dangerously illiberal,” Mr Sanderson said. “We certainly hope that the Government is not now going to bring forward something even more extreme as a quid pro quo for abolishing blasphemy.”

January 30 2008