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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The limits of free speech

The long-running debate as to what extent religious leaders should comment on secular and political matters has spilled over into this morning's Western Mail.

Last weekend the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey urged Gordon Brown to apologise for weakening the UK economy. He told the paper yesterday that religious leaders have a "vital role to play in holding politicians to account" and that there is a "critical as well as creative relationship" between faith and politics.

However, Labour Assembly Member Lorraine Barrett has a different view. She told the Western Mail that "I think a church leader calling on the Prime Minister to apologise is totally out of order and overstepping his jurisdiction. He's clearly not speaking for me." Well no, clearly not.

I agree with Lorraine that Bishops should not sit in the House of Lords, but then I do not think any non-elected people should sit there. It should be 100% elected. However, I disagree that clerics should keep schtum on secular matters. They are voters too for goodness sake and have a right to express a view in the same way as anybody else.

The argument is of course about their spiritual leadership role and whether it should spill over into other matters but you cannot separate issues of morality from public policy. The two are intertwined. My problem is when religious leaders try to suppress the views of others or limit our rights, but providing that they exercise their own right to free speech in the context of open debate then who could object?
"you cannot separate issues of morality from public policy"

Quite. I can't recall where I read it but a long time ago I recall reading about David Steel's father, the Very Rev David Steel, saying something along these lines in respect of his very public criticism of the authorities during the Kenya troubles in the 1950s (he was working there as a Church of Scotland minister at the time).
George Carey's not a religious leader! whether you agree with the institution of the House of Lords or not. Lord Carey does not sit in it as a bishop, he's a "peer of the realm. she's got it all wrong its not Lord Carey she should be attacking. Its her own party's failure to reform the second chamber. Lord Carey can say whatever the hell he wants!

I have heard people attack our own Barry Morgan's use of his office to promote a political agenda.
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