“civil society and faiths can create and convene safe spaces where difference can be spoken with care and understanding can be deepened, truth revealed and progress made towards a common good”
On 10th December 2021 the Bishop of Birmingham spoke in a House of Lords debate led by the Archbishop of Canterbury on contemporary challenges to freedom of speech and the role of the public, private and third sectors in upholding it
The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, as we have been hearing, speech is one of the most precious gifts for humanity, freedom of which is easy to take for granted, as we may do from week to week in this House, but even easier to abuse. Speech is so important that, at this season of the year, for people of Christian tradition, we even call the son of God’s appearance the word of God—the word made flesh
In the same scriptures in which we read that story, there is warning of the danger of the use of the tongue:
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
Of course, I do not refer to anyone who stands on the platform at Speakers’ Corner or any other venue of that kind. We remember also
“the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”—
the blaze of instant phone recordings or a tweet out of context.
On 4th November 2019 Lord Leigh of Hurley asked the Government “how many universities in England have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism; and what steps they intend to take in respect of those which have not”. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Council of Christians and Jews, founded in the depths of the Second World War by Chief Rabbi Hertz and Archbishop William Temple. I applaud the noble Baroness’s long history of standing up for freedom of religion and belief. Like the noble Lord, the CCJ hears numerous reports of no-platforming, intimidation and lack of free speech. I fully accept that universities are autonomous, but will the Minister look for ways in which pressure can be applied to ensure that these standards are kept? Does she agree that mere exhortation is not really working?
On 10th June 2019 the House of Lords heard repeated a statement by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. The Bishop of Coventry, Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, I echo the praise that has already been given to the emergency services following both Barking and the Grenfell disaster. I welcome the Statement’s recognition of the power of community and its commitment to a new and stronger partnership between residents and those who serve them, for trust to rebuilt and, in particular, for the council to listen and the community to be heard.
The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for his patient and insightful speech and to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for securing this debate. As a Christian minister, I hope that I can contribute with humility and sensitivity in this vital matter.
As extremists attempt to divide our communities, and even seek to hijack Christian symbols to do so, it is important to state clearly and loudly that it is the duty of all Christians in this country to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters who suffer hate speech, violence or prejudice.
On 17th October 2018 the House of Lords debated a motion from Communities Minister Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, “That this House takes note of the challenges posed by religious intolerance and prejudice in the United Kingdom.” The Archbishop of Canerbury, Most Revd Justin Welby, spoke in the debate. A transcript is below, with excerpts from the speeches of others in the debate:
The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and others who have made this useful and important debate possible. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hain, I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said. I agree also with the passionate and clear setting out by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, of the threats and incidents that have occurred in recent years. However, I want to focus more on religious intolerance and prejudice. If I have one concern, it is how we bring together religious tolerance, and stand against the kind of things the noble Lord, Lord Hain, spoke about, while maintaining freedom of speech.
In his book, The Home We Build Together, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, wrote:
“Society is not a house or a hotel. It should be a home”.
The rising tide of anti-Semitism, with which I am deeply familiar through work with the Chief Rabbi, and Islamophobia, which we in the Church are deeply familiar with through working with Muslim leaders across the country, are just two illustrations of the narrowing of those who feel truly at home in the UK today. This terrible, storm-ridden climate is affecting people across a whole range of religious traditions.
On 13th September 2018 the House of Lords debated a motion from Lord Popat, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what actions they are taking to reassure the Jewish community over the impact of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom.” The Bishop of Birmingham, Rt Revd David Urquhart, spoke:
On 30th April Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty’s Government “what assessment they have made of figures from the Office for National Statistics showing that the Muslim population of England grew 10 times faster than the general population between 2001 and 2016; what is their estimate of future growth; and what is their assessment of the impact of that trend on the relationship between Sharia and domestic law.” The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, asked a follow-up question:
The Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a prerequisite to any intelligent discussion of Islam or any other religion should pay attention to the ninth commandment, which is that you will not bear false witness against your neighbour?
On 13th March 2018, Lord Young of Cookham repeated an answer given to an urgent question about inflammatory letters inciting a ‘Punish a Muslim’ day. The Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Revd Christine Hardman, denounced these letters, expressed her solidarity with the Muslim community, and asked the Government what action it is taking to support grass-roots relationships.
The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches and, I am sure, on behalf of the Church, I want to say that any attack on a person or community on the basis of their faith or their race is abhorrent and has no place in a decent, civilised society.
As a Christian leader I stand in solidarity with my Muslim friends and with all those in and outside this building who have been directly affected or are fearful and anxious.
On 13th March 2018 Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty’s Government “what assessment they have made of the national scale of the “grooming gang scandal”, including sexual exploitation of non-Muslim children by Muslim men, as emerged recently in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and elsewhere; and what steps they are taking to enable the prosecution of those in the police and local authorities who have failed to prevent it.” The Lord Bishop of Oxford, Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, asked a follow up question:
The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I am enormously grateful for the Minister’s Answer to the Question. I had the great privilege to be the Bishop of Sheffield for seven years during the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham and I am now the Bishop of Oxford. I spent a great deal of time in Rotherham following Professor Jay’s report and registered the shock across all sections of the community, including, of course, the Muslim community there, who were as deeply appalled by what had happened as the rest of the community. I vividly remember visiting some parents at a mosque in Rotherham and hearing how their children were insulted by the rest of the community in words I will not repeat in this House. Will the Minister affirm the condemnation with which these scandals are greeted across the Muslim communities in each of these towns and cities?