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Tuesday, March 15, 2005


More teachers and less priests

If Charles Kennedy does only one thing today, it should be to read Salman Rushdie's article in yesterday's Guardian G2 supplement. He might then be better equipped to stand up to religious bullies such Iqbal Sacranie, who appear successfully to have persuaded Kennedy to back-pedal on the government's proposed incitement to religious hatred law (inserted in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill).

Some choice quotes from Rushdie:

...the simple truth is that wherever religions get into society's driving seat, tyranny results. The Inquisition results. Or the Taliban. And yet religions continue to insist that they provide special access to ethical truths, and consequently deserve special treatment and protection. And they continue to emerge from the world of private life, where they belong, like so many other things that are acceptable when done in private between consenting adults but unacceptable in the town square, and to bid for power.

Journalists, lawyers and a long list of public figures have warned that this [incitement to religious hatred] law will dramatically hinder free speech and fail to meet its objective - that religious disturbances will increase rather than diminish. Blair's government seems to view the whole subject of civil liberties with disdain - what do freedoms matter, hard-won and long-cherished though they may be, when set against the requirements of a government facing re-election?

Victor Hugo wrote: "There is in every village a torch: the schoolmaster - and an extinguisher: the parson." We need more teachers and less priests in our lives; because, as James Joyce once said, "There is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being."
The incitement to religious hatred proposal was debated in the Lords yesterday, where Liberal Democrat peers remained firm in their opposition. The government is running out of parliamentary time and its Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill is vulnerable. When this Bill returns to the Commons, I shall watch Charles Kennedy's progress with interest.

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