Dr Rowan William, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has poked the hornets nest with his speech that said
“It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system.”
Unsurprisingly there has been an outcry- not least amoung the ‘Daily Mail’ tendency. Let’s be clear, what this is not is an acceptence of stoning women, he was talking about civil matters, such as divorce. The caveats were in there as he spoke. The worrying thing is not his misunderstanding of the law as it stands, but the subtext in a plea for religeon.
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The most obvious comparison is Jewish law in the UK. As a religeon Judaism does not recognise civil divorce- Jewish couples who divorce also get a religeous divorce, in addition, not instead of, the civil divorce. Courts actively encourage arbitration outside the legal system on a whole range of affairs- why waste time and money in court on matters that can be talked through outside? If Muslims prefer to come to agreements binding under their belief, which, if need be, is presented to a civil court for rubber stamping, that is possible now- and has been for a long time.
What I find disturbing is the subtext to Dr Williams speech, the implication that people of faith should not be asked to obey temporal laws in contradictions to spiritual laws. He makes the point that a doctor can refuse to carry out an abortion if that conflcits with his beliefs. There is no problem with that, there is no compulsion to carry out abortions. But Williams extends that to say this should be allowed to go further.
That is unacceptable. A country has laws. In the UK there are ways to campaign against laws (Mark Thomas demonstraits against the Serious Organised Crime and Police act, WHILE CONFORMING TO ITS PROVISIONS in his demos, which is why he is in the Guinness book of records). This may well do no good, but you must obey that law until it is repealed. What can never be allowed is law to be ignored because of someones belief in an invisible sky fairy.
This will cause problems. No one can force you to give blood, but should religion be allowed to block life saving treatment? What if the person treated has no choice (they are a child, and the parents refuse)?
If we do have to make legal accomodations for one religeon, what happens to all other religeons- should they all have different laws? What if the accomodation that Dr Williams seeks actually impacts laws. Late paid Income Tax has interest levied on it. This is incompatible with some religeons- should they have the interest waived? The Queen derives her authority from God. Parliament derives its authority from the Queen. Laws must be given the Royal Assent. As an atheist am I allowed to ignore UK law because it takes it’s authority from a mythical figure?
My advice for Dr Williams is a phrase he should recognise.
“Rend Unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”