In a rare break with protocol, the Archbishop of Canterbury has defended the right to freedom of speech amid an ongoing row about the showing of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
The head of the Church of England, Justin Welby also described cancel culture as a “huge threat” to the future of the institution.
His comments come after a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed was shown at a school in Batley, West Yorkshire, to spur discussion. Instead, it provoked outrage among some Muslims, both locally and further afield, and the teacher responsible has reportedly gone into hiding.
Welby acknowledged that the UK’s Muslim leaders were “very upset”, but was grateful they had spoken out against the “violence and threats”.
“In other words, exercise your freedom of speech, but don’t prevent other people exercising their freedom of speech,” the archbishop said in an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica.
He also discussed the toppling of statues, including that of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol last year, amid a groundswell of anti-racist sentiment, and said that history was there to serve as a lesson and should not be erased.
“We can’t erase the past. It’s impossible,” he said.
“We have to repent of it quite often. But we cannot erase it. We cannot cancel history. We cannot cancel differences of opinion.”
The archbishop also spoke out against cancel culture on university campuses, describing it as anathema to the institutions’ purpose of fostering the free exchange of ideas.
“It seems to me very, very dangerous, because you start with cancelling some views that you dislike and, very quickly, you are cancelling everyone who disagrees. It’s a very dangerous process.”
His comments were welcomed online, with some pointing out the exceptionalism displayed when it comes to public discussion of the prophets of different religions.
I’m really glad to see @justinwelby – in this interesting interview with @antoguerrera for @repubblica – stand up unequivocally for freedom of expression including when insulting religion, when asked about the Mohammed cartoons case. https://t.co/0P1QwltXgdpic.twitter.com/Vf09B2h31e
— Mark Wallace (@wallaceme) March 30, 2021
A teacher used a cartoon to start a discussion and is in fear of his life, the town of Lewes burns an effigy of the current Pope each year to celebrate Guy Fawkes and it‘s celebrate/tolerated. The difference is the fear of offending a particular group.
— Silver Also (@SilverAlso) March 30, 2021
This merits retweeting far and wide.@JustinWelby‘s response shames that of the Headteacher of @BatleyGS, whose impulse was to suspend the teacher and censor RE resources. The Archbishop of Canterbury is unequivocally on the side of religious and academic freedom. 🙏 https://t.co/Fp6J5gcndn
— Adrian Hilton (@Adrian_Hilton) March 31, 2021
Welby also denied claims that he married Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in secret three days before their royal wedding, as the Duchess of Sussex claimed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, insisting they had legally tied the knot in public on Saturday, May 19, 2018. He refused to divulge the details of any prior meetings with the couple.
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