The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams gave a lecture about criticism of religion (thanks to commenter gs for the pointer, which let me revise the post to quote the original lecture, rather than the Times of London excerpts). Parts of the lecture that dealt with nonlegal questions were quite interesting and plausible; parts I couldn't fully assess, because they referred to other works that I haven't read, or details of various controversies (such as the English reaction to the original Salman Rushdie fatwa) that I hadn't followed carefully.
But the legal parts were quite striking, and in my view strikingly wrong. Williams was accepting the need to revise the existing English blasphemy laws, but gave the following thoughts about what should replace them:
The grounds for legal restraint in respect of language and behaviour offensive to religious believers are pretty clear: the intention to limit or damage a believer's freedom to be visible and audible in the public life of a society is plainly an invasion of what a liberal society ought to be guaranteeing; and the obvious corollary is that the creation of an offence of incitement to religious hatred is a way of avoiding the civil disorder that threatens when a group comes to feel that it has been unjustly excluded....
The law cannot and should not prohibit argument, which involves criticism, and even, as I noted earlier, angry criticism at times; but it can in some settings send a signal about what is generally proper in a viable society by stigmatising and punishing extreme behaviours that have the effect of silencing argument. Rather than assuming that it is therefore only a few designated kinds of extreme behaviour that are unacceptable and that everything else is fair game, the legal provision should keep before our eyes the general risks of debasing public controversy by thoughtless and (even if unintentionally) cruel styles of speaking and acting....
Related Posts (on one page):
- Call for Affirmative Action in Free Speech Rights:
- Let's Ban "Thoughtless and Cruel" Criticism of Religions: