Sharia in the UK? Fine by me

Over here in the UK, there has been a tremendous fuss over the Archbishop of Canterbury suggesting that incorporating some elements of Sharia Law in UK law is now inevitable. Rowan Williams’s remarks were politically naïve: if he didn’t know how they’d be received, he was a fool; if he did, he was reckless. (People often say how intelligent Williams is, but I think they confuse intelligence with being thoughtful, well-intentioned and in possession of a fine beard.)
However, what annoyed me was that even the serious press failed to get behind his headline-grabbing phrase and unpick what he was really proposing, which was something much more modest. So when I was asked to record a “Thought for the Day” for the Scottish Humanists, I thought I’d break the habit of a lifetime and stick up for him.
So first, the red herring:

The question he was addressing was how to accommodate deep and real plurality in society without threatening its essential unity. The wrong answer to this is that there should be different laws for people who hold different beliefs. This is a clear non-starter. For one thing, who is to decide to whom such laws would apply? We can’t bind people by the religion, or lack of it, of their parents. So the only alternative would be for people to choose themselves which legal code to opt into. This is just absurd.

So what is a better answer?

As has become clearer in recent days, all Williams meant was that people should have the option of settling some civil disputes through voluntary means of arbitration, and agree to be bound by its conclusion.
There is, and should be, room outside the law for some diversity in how we choose to relate morally to one another. The key distinction here is between laws we all must obey, and practices that can be legally recognised but do not need to be followed by everyone.
A good example of this is gay marriage: the law could recognise this, but that wouldn’t, of course, mean there was one law for gays and another for heterosexuals; or that gay marriage was being forced upon the straight community.
Williams’s mistake was failing to make clear that the principle of one law for all is sacrosanct. Secularism requires a neutral public space in which people of all faiths and none can come together to debate and legislate as equals. As long as we maintain this, there is plenty of room in private and community life for people to live by their very different, deeply held beliefs.

So, putting aside the merits of what Williams actually said, are there any terminal problems for the sort of “space for legal recognition of belief-specific arbitration” pluralism I suggest? I think there are some real problems, which I’ll perhaps raise if no one else does, but in broad terms, I can’t see a principled objection to it.
(You can listen to the “Thought” here, or read the complete version at the bottom of this page.)

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39 Comments.

  1. I think the most pressing problem (addressed by other commentators and one you were probably thinking of) is that of pressure put on people in a community to agree to those principles which the community ‘leaders’ dictate as being appropriate. One could think of divorce in which a woman is forced by peer pressure (and fear of reprisal) to accept community arbitration which resulted in her losing custody of her children. How can people freely agree to a process when not agreeing can lead to their own death?

  2. Straight to what I think is the biggest problem. Here is where the rule of law comes in: any legally recognised process must be in accordance with equal rights legislation, the Human Rights act, and so on. So any UK version of this could not be like some of the things we hear about in rural Pakistan, for example.
    Could a sharia tribunal meet these conditions? I don’t know, but if it could, wouldn’t that be ok? My worry is that it is too quickly assumed anything “sharia” would be all sorts of nasty things, because we only hear about it in extreme contexts.

  3. I think that there is a lot more going in William’s speech than the pragmatic issue of some space for sharia. I suspect that Williams has recognised that Anglican privilege is unsustainable in contemporary Britain, as the established church and so on, and so is now pressing for a kind of general religious privilege in law to reinvent it. He has suggested as much in other speeches and complaints too, such as the row over gay adoption and the Catholic church. That, though, is equally unsustainable and undoable – as the row over sharia has demonstrated: privilege might have worked once for one Christian denomination, but it couldn’t for the churches as a whole, let alone for all religions, since they are too plural. To say nothing of the principle of one law for all in a democracy and the worries about the illiberality of sharia. Perhaps not always coherently, I suspect that part of the outcry against the speech and interview is a reflection of the feeling that Williams, though undoubtedly a humble man, is involved in protecting the power of the institution he represents.

    I’m more persuaded by those Christian commentators who have argued that a better way forward is for the church to give up its privilege and take the moral high ground, standing for mutuality, tolerance, accommodation, civic virtues and so on – as it did, in a different place and time, when the Elizabethan settlement was first drawn up. This is asking for turkeys to vote for Christmas, of course; for the Church of England to relinquish power. Though if any turkeys could be persuaded to vote in such a way it would perhaps be Christian ones.

  4. “As has become clearer in recent days, all Williams meant was that people should have the option of settling some civil disputes through voluntary means of arbitration, and agree to be bound by its conclusion.”

    But this is already the case in law and practice – if this is all Williams was saying, it was the equivalent of making a speech saying “people should have the option of forming football clubs if they want to play football”. I don’t believe the Archbishop is that much of a simpleton, although it’s what the C of E is currently trying to make us believe.

    Williams was going further than that, as far as I can tell from his tortured prose – he was proposing that there should, in some ill-defined way, be provision for “proper” religions to have their core beliefs taken account of in secular law. “Proper” religions being those with a way of making authoritative decisions on doctrine, and core beliefs being those that would not conflict with the secular law (which raises the question of why, if the core beliefs do not conflict with secular law, they need to be taken into account at all). As far as I can tell, he wants to turn other religions into the sort of state the C of E is currently in, where everyone is nice and wooly and has good intentions, and there’s no conflict with the law of the land.

    As others have pointed out, the halal butchers at the top of my street are operating under sharia law and not coming into conflict with English law. I’m sure many of my neighbours already sort out financial and other disagreements by appealing to local religious leaders who will decide on sharia principles, and that’s fair enough if there is genuine agreement between all parties.

    What’s worrying to me is both the sort of community pressure Tony describes, and the sort of situation described in a Law in Action broadcast last year, where an informal Somali “court” was dealing with serious criminal offences, in particular a stabbing, and allegedly with the blessing of the police. If I stabbed someone that would have serious implications for my employment and various other activities, and we can’t allow community courts to impose different penalties for serious crimes depending on which community you come from. What’s also worrying was that one of the advocates of sharia courts interviewed on Law in Action seemed to be quite relaxed about that prospect.

  5. I think Mark and Andrew are right in holding that Williams, despite the torturousness of his prose, is thinking of something much more radical than, as Andrew says, permission to form analogues of football clubs. In fact, he is suggesting that aspects of sharia law be taken up into British Law, so that sharia courts would have standing within the British legal system.

    Now, this could, in fact, be subversive of sharia, since in order for this to happen it would have to demonstrate its consistency with Human Rights legislation, and other features of English Common Law, including equality before the law, rules of evidence, and so on. But I don’t think Williams was putting forward a subversive idea. He actually thinks, as he went of further to emphasise, that it is his responsibility, as a spiritual leader, to address problems of secularism when secularism is carried too far. Whether or not he thinks establishment unsustainable — and I’m not convinced of that — he certainly thinks there is room for religious law within the British legal framework.

    At the heart of his suggestion lies an extremely dangerous communitarianism, where individual communities within Britain would have the right to govern themselves according to their own cultural and legal traditions, which would, in effect, serve to sever the the idea of human rights itself at its root.

    I think the truth of the matter is that the ABC has not given much thought to this. No matter how well-intentioned he is, and no matter how deep his impenetrable style makes his thoughts appear, the immediate effect of his proposals would be to set back the British legal system by about six hundred years or more. One of the main things he does not seem to understand is that sharia is a complete system of law. You can see it in action in places like Saudi Arabia. If the ABC thinks, for one moment, that those who think of law in terms of sharia will be content with a little excised package that can be made consistent with the British legal tradition, then he’s dreaming. I increasingly think (based on the way he’s run things in the communion) that this is the world he lives in most of the time.

  6. I think Williams has realised that the C of E is now just another minority religion, and that (as Mark says) its position of privilege is unsustainable (wasn’t there a survey recently which found that it is no longer even the largest Christian denomination?). So he either accepts that the position of legally-endorsed importance that the C of E has enjoyed for several hundred years will disappear, and he’ll be as (un)important a figure as any other man with a beard and a funny hat, or he makes a claim for many men with beards and funny hats to be given privileged positions in law. Not all of them, obviously, or I’d have a seat in the House of Lords, only the ones who are bona fide religious leaders of the faith communities that he considers to be genuine and important. As Eric says, dangerous communitarianism.

  7. I wouldn’t want to see gay marriage permitted in some sub-community just because they believe in it…because then I’d have to support polygamy in Utah communities, just because renegade Mormons believe in it. I think the laws of a sub-community can be different up to a point, but must pass muster by a broader standard. By that standard, gay marriage is OK, polygamy isn’t.

    Somebody above mentioned Halal butchers. Actually, Halal and Kosher treatment of animals are a great example of too much accommodation. Jews and Muslims are permitted to break US slaughter laws (which require stunning before slaughter). The religions are given priority over animal welfare, and I can’t see giving religion priority over anyone’s welfare.

  8. Williams’s mistake was failing to make clear that the principle of one law for all is sacrosanct.

    He did more than fail to make that clear, he disavowed it. In the World at One interview he said

    An approach to law which simply said ‘There’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said’ – I think that’s a bit of a danger.

    Far from thinking the principle of one law for all is sacrosanct, he thinks it’s a bit of a danger.

  9. Somebody wrote a very good piece for the Guardian a few years ago (so long ago that I’m not confident of being able to find it, because I don’t remember details to narrow the search) on just the issue that Jean raises: religious exemptions from laws that attempt to minimize suffering in animal slaughter. It was a very good piece but seems to have made little impression; few people are aware of the implications of halal meat. (I wouldn’t be if I hadn’t read that one article.)

  10. I’m sure Andrew thought he was on completely solid ground when he wrote–

    “As others have pointed out, the halal butchers at the top of my street are operating under sharia law and not coming into conflict with English law.”

    I suspect they are in conflict…as “stun first” is the law in the US and probably in the UK as well. In kosher and halal slaughter there’s no stunning, just slitting of the throat, often while the fully conscious animal is hanging upside down.

  11. My worry is that it is too quickly assumed anything “sharia” would be all sorts of nasty things, because we only hear about it in extreme contexts.

    I’m not sure that’s quite right, Julian. That’s not Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s view, for instance, and she grew up with sharia. I think what is assumed – quickly or not – is that sharia is inseparable from some very nasty things. It may have some harmless bits, but it also has the others, and in the real world there simply are no examples of de-fanged sharia, of cherry-picked sharia that is only the harmless bits with none of the nasty ones. So I don’t think it’s the case that peple are too quick to assume they know what sharia would be like; I think they have good reasons to assume that. A fully benign sharia would be a new thing under the sun.

    The Cairo Declaration of Islamic Human Rights is relevant in this context…

  12. Jean – yeh – that’s what the article said. That needs to be more widely known.

  13. I could be wrong, but what Ophelia quotes doesn’t seem to be disavowing the principle of one law for all. What he said was:

    An approach to law which simply said ‘There’s one law for everybody and that’s all there is to be said’ – I think that’s a bit of a danger.

    In other words, there is more to be said than simply “one law for all”; not “one law for all” is wrong.
    Mind you, as I said at the start, I’m personally less interested in exegesis of Williams’s exact words and more interested in what scope there is for plurality under one law.

  14. Ah – I didn’t find the old Guardian piece, but this one is relevant -

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/11/06/nasda106.xml

    Animal rights activists criticised a supermarket chain yesterday for its decision to stock halal meat.

    Asda will next month sell the produce from animals that have not been stunned before their throats are cut.

  15. Well that’s the ABC for you: always be as ambiguous as possible. But okay: I’ll skip the exegetical points.

  16. Halal and Kosher methods of slaughter are permitted under UK law. The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 makes specific exemptions and stipulations for Jewish and Muslim animal slaughtering. So Jews and Muslims aren’t permitted to break the law, they have variations in the law which apply only to them. I don’t think they should have such variations, or that Sikhs should be specifically exempted from having to wear motorcycle helmets, or that any other religion or sect should have special treatment (least of all the C of E), but that’s the situation.

    http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si1995/Uksi_19950731_en_1.htm if you want to wade through descriptions of slaughtering methods.

  17. Right – but the question is whether this is okay or not. We probably agree that it’s not. I would say it’s not fair enough, because there isn’t genuine agreement between all parties (adapting your conclusion in that halal paragraph above). I gather you think much the same.

    Financial and mortgage laws seem to be the only examples anyone ever comes up with that could under the right conditions be fair enough if all parties agree. If that’s what the ABC has in mind – well he certainly made heavy weather of it.

  18. Andrew, Well OK. Halal and kosher slaughterers have been given permission to deviate from the humane slaughter act (and the UK equivalent). They are not criminal practices. But they do violate the animal welfare guidelines that are mandatory for everyone else. When you first mentioned halal I thought you were using it as example of something the law doesn’t care about (like many religious practices). The law does care about how animals are slaughtered, and bends for halal. I think we’re on the same page now. Must look at your link (ugh).

  19. “So, putting aside the merits of what Williams actually said, are there any terminal problems for the sort of “space for legal recognition of belief-specific arbitration” pluralism I suggest? I think there are some real problems, which I’ll perhaps raise if no one else does, but in broad terms, I can’t see a principled objection to it.”

    I think the strongest objection to it is indeed that we have no guarantee that the consent to be bound by the arbitration of these courts is actually a voluntary one and not one enforced through social pressure or coercion. Given that I’m not really convinced that Human Rights Act Compliance is a sufficient guarantee. Johann Hari cites this example:

    “Then we meet Nasirin Iqbal, a 27-year-old Pakistani woman who was shipped to Britain five years ago to marry. Her husband, Imran, has kept her isolated, and she does not speak a word of English. “I came here thinking he’d treat me well,” she says. “But he keeps hurting me. He brought me here to use me. I’m not an object…. Do I not have a heart?… He tells me I’m stuck with him, and under Islam he can treat me however he wants. ‘I am a man, I can treat you how I want’.”

    We see how Imran torments her, announcing, “You are a reject. I didn’t want to marry you.” He takes a second wife in Pakistan, and texts her all day in front of Nasirin declaring his love. The sharia court issues a fatwa saying the marriage stands. She doesn’t seem to know this isn’t a court of law. “I can’t ignore what they say,” she cries. “You have to go with what they say.”

    The argument that women will only have to enter these courts if they freely choose to shows a near-total disconnection from the reality of Muslim women’s lives. Most of the women who will be drawn into “consenting” are, like Nasirin, recent immigrants with little idea of their legal options. Then there are the threats of excommunication – or violence – from some families. As the Muslim feminist Irshad Manji puts it: “When it comes to contemporary sharia, choice is theory.”

    I think I made a nearly identical comment on Mark’s blog, so please excuse the repetition. I suppose if a way could be found of ensuring this was compliant with the Human Rights act it would be fine, but as I can’t see how that could possibly be even remotely feasible the question seems largely irrelevant.

  20. I did a similar post a few days ago, including quoting the same passage from Johann Hari’s piece (it’s a compelling passage!). The archbishop himself admits that the issue of women’s rights is ‘neuralgic’ – but he doesn’t actually address it, he just gestures at it.

  21. There’s more to halal butchery than simply the slaughtering method, though. You can’t slaughter animals in the same location as pigs are slaughtered, for example. Although the kosher and halal exemptions don’t apply to pigs (only to sheep, goats and bovines), the legal regulations don’t say anything about the need to avoid contamination. It’s apparently also necessary for halal meat to come from animals which have not been fed animal products, and again that isn’t covered by the law on slaughter. I assume there are other sharia regulations about the production and sale of meat which go beyond the law of the land.

    There are sharia banks already in existence, and I believe at least one of the major banks was looking into introducing a sharia account. I think the various ways of lending people money while pretending not to be charging interest are childish “cross your fingers and hope God doesn’t notice” nonsense, but if people want to do that sort of thing, they already can.

    That’s why the “football club” interpretation of Rowan Williams’s speech doesn’t work. On that interpretation, he’s saying that people ought to be permitted to do things which they are already permitted to do, and are doing. I just don’t think that’s a plausible explanation of what he must have meant. I think what he was looking for (although he’s back-pedalling now) is more of the sort of codified legal variations that the regulations on slaughtering animals exemplify. That’s the only sensible interpretation of his warnings about the “danger” of having a universal set of laws.

  22. Julian, I’m not sure I understand what might be meant by ‘plurality under one law.’ Could you elucidate?

  23. Is an example of plurality under one law the kosher-halal exemption from humane slaughtering laws? This is not encouraging. But how else, except by way of exemption, can we have a plurality under one law? A law applies or it doesn’t to the same class of person doing the same class of things. If it doesn’t apply, then to some of that class doing that class of things, then that one is exempt. Or we could make a law — as Britain has apparently already done — that it’s okay for class A males to have more than one wife, but not okay for class B males. Is that one law or two?

  24. Is he backpedalling? In his ‘clarification’ on Friday he said he

    sought carefully to explore the limits of a unitary and secular legal system in the presence of an increasingly plural (including religiously plural) society and to see how such a unitary system might be able to accommodate religious claims. Behind this is the underlying principle that Christians cannot claim exceptions from a secular unitary system on religious grounds (for instance in situations where Christian doctors might not be compelled to perform abortions), if they are not willing to consider how a unitary system can accommodate other religious consciences.

    He’s saying Christians should let other believers have exceptions from what he calls ‘a secular unitary system’ which presumably means The Law.

  25. Andrew, The spirit of these things is actually appealing to me–Halal and Kosher make a big deal out of killing animals, instead of making it routine. The problem is that humane practices of 2-3000 years ago are no longer the best we can do. Yes, there are all sorts of provisions besides method of slaughter…it is all quite interesting. By the way, I looked at your link-in the UK there’s a little more of an attempt to make religious slaughter humane than in the US.

  26. Firstly, I just want to say that I love when you wrote “I think they confuse intelligence with being thoughtful, well-intentioned and in possession of a fine beard.” I laughed. :)

    About the topic, I think it would be easier to say that we just need less laws. If we want people to be able to come to mutual agreements and to have the option to voluntarily reconcile their civil disputes, then just let them do it. There does not need to be a law about it. The problem is that there are too many laws being made that are trying to micromanage people’s lives.

  27. There’s no room in secular law for religious law. Secular law might be derived from religious law (and, ultimately, so many laws are derived from basic Judaic Law that we might as well…)

    Religious law is concerned with morality – secular law is concerned with property. Rights fall into that area of humanity that has no bearing on either property or morality, but can be simply considered as “how would I want to be treated?” (Simplistic? Certainly.)

    Should Britain adopt some bits of the Sharia? Let’s just say: I’m glad I left there if this idiocy is provided serious contemplation. It’s bad enough in America with the Evangelicals wanting to enforce the saving of everyone’s souls – whether they want to be saved or not. I can only hope Julian was having a bit of fun when he posed the question.

    (If not – okay, who’s law predominates? What about the unbelievers? And if there’s intermarriage (gay, straight, bent around a nine-bob note*? Who cares?) which consideration takes precedence? In Wicca the woman; in Islam – the man. I hope no Wiccans and Muslims marry in that fearful and feckless new world of Diminuted Britain**.

    I really do hope Julian was having a good giggle with this one.

    Carolyn Ann

    * A nine-bob note is a reference similar to the three-dollar bill. It doens’t exist, and hence anyone presenting one is “bent”. Queer, etc.
    ** I actually am British (in the full sense of the sentiment). I can say that, and mean it.

  28. Oh – you should know that I take my national identity quite seriously. It only took 17 years for me to decide to become American.

    Sharia in Britain?!? And the suggestion isn’t greeted with howls, gales and hurricanes of laughter? Whatever happened to Britain I knew? Never mind that! Whatever happened to Britain?!?

    Carolyn Ann

  29. We’ve always had immigration, and there’s generally been a liberal attitude that immigrants (or any other people) can do what they want as long as it doesn’t conflict with the law of the land or impact too much on other people. John Stuart Mill, “an Englishman’s home is his castle”, and all that. Nobody’s suggesting that sharia should become universal in the UK (well, a few nutters perhaps, and probably fewer than want compulsory repatriation of immigrants and a pure white land), and an awful lot of sharia is the sort of uncontentious stuff that is entirely compatible with liberalism and people choosing their own way of life.

    I choose not to eat meat, a Muslim chooses not to eat pork, what’s the difference? I choose to wear a t-shirt, a Muslim man chooses to keep his body covered from wrists to ankles. I listen to jazz in the privacy of my own home on a Friday evening, a Muslim family prays. Big deal.

    Where it becomes a problem is with the sexism and homophobia, and suggestions that these ought to be in some way recognised in the law, that Muslims (and other religious groups, don’t forget) should have their prejudices accepted in a nation which isn’t perfect, but is at least moving in a direction where that sort of discrimination is fading away and no longer legally acceptable.

  30. No, people do not have and should not have a “right” to subject themselves to whatever “laws” they wish. This would be “repressive tolerance”. Football clubs, religions etc. have to frame their rules so that they conform to hard won western liberal values. Otherwise they may subvert law.

  31. I completely agree with the posters on here who smell a rat somewhere within the Archbishop’s nebulous musings. If it is just that he believes there should be an entitlement to sharia’-based arbitration, there already is such a thing. If he thinks there should be legislation to address ‘specific grievances’, then he should spell out whay those grievances are and how they should be addressed and they can be legislated on in the usual way. No, I think he is after something more substantial, a re-orientation of the relationship between churches and the state and I think the reason is, as some have suggested, that he recognises that it will become increasingly difficult otherwise to defend the privileged status of the established church. My hope is that the good that will come from this be a much more focussed and lively public debate on disestablishment. Some hope.

  32. The bishop may be that devious but I doubt it. I fear that he is just part of the desire to be nice to people who hold nasty views. Sure, serious Islamic scholars differ on this law and many want to revise or “modernise” but millions of muslims would reject these scholars. Moreover, many moderate muslims hold views which are incompatible with liberal freedoms.

  33. But the archbishop was explicit about this. I quote again, from his follow-up clarification -

    sought carefully to explore the limits of a unitary and secular legal system in the presence of an increasingly plural (including religiously plural) society and to see how such a unitary system might be able to accommodate religious claims. Behind this is the underlying principle that Christians cannot claim exceptions from a secular unitary system on religious grounds (for instance in situations where Christian doctors might not be compelled to perform abortions), if they are not willing to consider how a unitary system can accommodate other religious consciences.

    Christians cannot claim exceptions from a secular unitary system [meaning, the law] on religious grounds, if they are not willing to consider how a unitary system [of law] can accommodate other religious consciences.

    In other words: let’s accommodate other religious consciences so that we can go on demanding accommodation for our own. In other words, let’s unite to fight secularism.

  34. Yes, fair comment.

    Here in Ireland we have a small number of Islamic primary schools which teach the national curriculum along with Islamic values. There isn’t a peep of objection because, while progressives want to appear tolerant, the vast majority of schools are owned by the Catholic church.

  35. Interestingly the get-out for abortion only goes so far – if a conscientious-objector obstetrician/gynaecologist needs to perform an abortion to save a woman’s life in an emergency situation they are obliged to do so.

  36. Gee, what a violation of freedom of conscience. Surely any devout obstetrician/gynaecologist ought to be permitted to allow a pregnant woman to die if conscience so dictates.

    (The sarcasm isn’t aimed at your comment, PJ!)

  37. No doubt that Sharia can, in instances, be an improvement on secular law. But we follow a worrying path when we give over a realm of law to religious movements. Williams’ comments seem to imply that of all institutions, religious ones deserve the most recognition. I’m uncomfortable with this.

  38. A bit late to this, but hey!

    What puzzled me in William’s speech was that he never addressed the obvious question of, “if a law is so unimportant that we can afford to allow exemptions from it for religious belief, then why pass it in the first place?”

    To explain the question, imagine a neo-Aztec who wishes to capture people and sacrifice them to ensure that the sun comes up. Now I think even Williams would agree that that particular religious belief should not get an exemption from the laws against murder. So how about other, less-clear examples? If it is important to use the power of the state to, say, ban people from carrying knives, then why should people get an exemption on religious grounds? If the law is that unimportant, why not let everyone wear knives, limiting the size, etc if so desired? There may be a good response to this that I don’t know about, but it’s never mentioned by Williams.

    This may not be a terminal problem, but it’s a problem I think that deserves an answer by any serious advocate of granting religious exemptions.

    Some laws can be written in a way that allows for a wide range of religious and non-religious practices while still achieving their purpose. For example, the state has a clear interest in knowing who is married to who, as this affects next-of-kin which in turn affects medical decision-making, inheritances, etc. So a state has an interest in regulating marriage ceremones to ensure they are legally conducted, recorded, the bride and the groom both consent, etc but those regulations can still be done in a way that allows individual couples to be married according to a Christain ritual, an Islamic ritual, or whatever ceremony they wish to write for themselves. NZ law is far more neutral on marriage ceremonies than UK law, and that does not seem to cause any legal problems. And in those cases where a law can be written that both achieves its aims and allows people to exercise their religious or non-religious principles freely, I think it should be. But that’s not what Williams is apparently calling for.

    Williams also appears to assume that religious courts will be able to provide guidance on which religious excuses given for failing to comply with the law are valid ones and which are invalid. He doesn’t explain though why he thinks people who disagree with the religious court will go along with the religious court. Which is surprising in a Protestant, the religious descendent of people who most firmly did not accept the right of the Pope to speak for them in religious matters.

    Though of course, Williams writes so badly that perhaps he did address these issues and I just didn’t understand him.

  39. The ABC Of Putting Your Foot In It « Ramblings - pingback on August 30, 2011 at 12:33 pm

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