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Archbishop of Canterbury speaks out amid Mohammed cartoon row: We must hold onto freedom of speech

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 30/03/2021 Abbianca Makoni

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that Britain must hold onto freedom of speech, amid an ongoing row over a Mohammed cartoon being shown to schoolchildren.

His comments come days after people gathered in protest outside Batley Grammar School, near Bradford, this week after a teacher showed students an image of the Prophet Mohammed.

The Most Rev Justin Welby, speaking to La Repubblica on the issue, said that shutting down freedom of expression of religion, which he claimed is happening in various parts of Europe, is “entirely wrong.”

The teacher apologised after showing the cartoon, widely reported as taken from the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, during a religious studies lesson last week.

He was suspended on Thursday pending an investigation.

The Quran – the Islamic holy book – does not explicitly forbid creating such images but several Islamic legal and theological texts prohibit image-making - particularly of God or holy figures.

Mr Welby said: “I don’t know the details about that case. I’ve read the newspapers but I don’t know the backstory. In this country we abolished the blasphemy laws not long ago, in the past twenty years.

“And the Church of England was one of those who supported the abolition of the blasphemy laws. Because we feel that blasphemy is, I believe, a morally bad choice, in the sense of denigrating other people’s faith in a bad way, but it should not be a criminal matter.

“Yes, there can be a conflict between and in some parts of the world, you have to be very careful what you say because people feel very, very strongly.

“But in this country, I think, we have to hold on to freedom of speech. We have very good relationships with Muslim leaders across the country,” he added.

He went on to say that many Muslim leaders are upset by the cartoons that were shown but they have also urged the public to make it clear that you disagree strongly, but no violence, no threats.

“In other words, exercise your freedom of speech, but don’t prevent other people exercising their freedom of speech,” he added.

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