More on blasphemy, and religious toleration: why the Bishop of Rochester was right – by Edward Leigh MP

portrait-edwardleigh3.jpgThe Government said the blasphemy laws were unenforceable; Stephen Green, the Chairman of the pressure group Christian Voice, recently lost his case against the BBC for broadcasting Jerry Springer – which portrayed Jesus Christ as a man who said he got a sexual kick from soiling his own nappy.

If that’s not blasphemous, what is?

But if the weakness of the blasphemy laws is that they only exist to protect the Anglican faith, and therefore discriminate against other religions, why keep the Act of Settlement as it is? It not only prevents a Catholic from succeeding to the throne, but also bars the succession to any royal who marries a Catholic – though not a member of any other religion.

If we are going to bang on about human rights, is this not a clear-cut case of double standards? Imagine if it said they could not marry a Jew.

It is obvious that Christianity is fair game for its media and artistic enemies, while Islam is treated by the same people with rather more respect.

I agree that people should not insult the Prophet; that is simply yobbish discourtesy. But, as I have said on this site recently, the relative respect shown to Islam by the press is not always due to good manners. Sometimes, it’s simple fear.

Why the Bishop was right

Which leads me on to the Bishop of Rochester. Look what happened to him a couple of weeks ago when he had the temerity to say that some areas of the country have become so ghettoised by Islamic extremists as to turn ‘already separate communities into “no-go” areas where adherence to this ideology has become a mark of acceptability’.

The Muslim Council of Britain dismissed the bishop’s words as ‘frantic scare-mongering’; representatives of the three main parties effectively said he had overstated the case; and there were calls for his resignation.

But, as with the media reporting of the Pope’s Regensburg lecture, such ‘scare-mongering’ as there was, was whipped up by journalists taking a few of his points out of context. E.g.: ‘Fury at “no-go” areas ruled by the fanatics’ (Daily Express).

But let’s look at the claim about no-go areas in the context of other points he made.

  • ‘In fewer than 50 years, Britain has changed from…a society with an acknowledged Christian basis to one which is increasingly… [called] ‘multifaith’.


  • ‘One reason for this is the arrival of large numbers of people of other faiths to these shores.’


  • This has ‘coincided with the end of the Empire’, which led to ‘a widespread questioning of Britain’s role.’


  • We were simultaneously ‘losing confidence in the Christian vision which underlay most of the achievements of the culture’ and [seeking] ‘to accommodate immigrants on the basis of “multiculturalism”‘.

Those who deny this are either turning a blind eye or being brain-washed by multicultural propaganda.

  • Multiculturalism demanded that people live in ‘separate communities’, speaking their native languages and scarcely needing to develop ‘healthy relationships with the majority.’

Can’t argue with that.

One symptom of what he called ‘attempts…to impose an Islamic character on certain areas’ is the move to broadcast the call to prayer through loudspeakers – in spite of encouraging attempts by some ‘Muslim-majority communities…to reduce noise levels’. There has been a row about this in Oxford recently.

This is a country with a long-established tradition of religious toleration but, as I said yesterday, toleration demands mutual respect for each other’s beliefs. It does not mean allowing people of any faith to broadcast from a high building five times a day for two minutes a set of doctrinal statements.

Those who support the calls for it say church bells are the equivalent; but church bells don’t actually preach at you.

Our Muslim friends must be persuaded by cool reason that, while we are perfectly happy for them to worship as they wish, allowing something so intrusive that is alien to our traditions would be an abuse of tolerance – as, indeed is the fact (as we approach Holocaust Memorial day on Sunday), that some state schools have stopped teaching about the Holocaust (and the crusades) for fear of offending their Muslim pupils.

This cannot do any good, particularly when a recent study has found that 45% of children under 16 don’t know who Hitler was.

As a Catholic, it seems ironic to me that nearly 500 years ago, another Bishop of Rochester, alone among the (then only Catholic) Bishops of the country got it – literally – in the neck for daring to speak out against the political correctness of his own day (that was St John Fisher, beheaded by Henry VIII for refusing to accept that the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was invalid).


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