Dr Williams – stop digging

Dr Williams is in a hole. Everyone tells me he is a very intelligent man, but on this occasion he has made an elementary error in the way he thinks about law and society.

There can only be one law in a free democratic society. Everyone has to obey it. The only privilege that should extend to the government is the right to change the law, but only for future actions, not for past.

<a href=’http://www.johnredwoodsdiary.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/399px-rowan_williams_-001.jpg’ title=’399px-rowan_williams_-001.jpg’><img src=’http://www.johnredwoodsdiary.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/399px-rowan_williams_-001.jpg’ alt=’399px-rowan_williams_-001.jpg’ /></a>

Dr Williams has confused the need for toleration, with the need for a single law.

I am all in favour of extending toleration. It has worked well for the UK, which is a fairly tolerant society. There are many areas where we do not need to have an agreed single law or rule, where we can tolerate different practises.

We do not need to enforce a law to make people eat pork. We can allow people with religious objections to avoid it. Nor should we enforce a law to prevent others eating pork who have no objections to doing so.

We should not enforce a law to make all women appear in public with a head scarf, as many of us do not believe such clothing is necessary. Nor should we pass a law saying women must not appear in public in a headscarf, as some women would like to for religious reasons, and some for fashion.

A majority of motorists today think driving at 80 mph on a motorway is a safe thing to do. A minority do not, and accordingly observe the speed limit. You could say it is inevitable that we need a law which allows the majority to practise their belilef that driving at 80 mph is safe.

However, we could not move from a law which says 70 mph is the maximum to a law which says 70 mph is the maximum if that is your belief, but 80 mph is the law if you are not a 70 believer. The police need to know which is the law for all, so they can enforce it fairly. That is why our system is based on people arguing and lobbying for changes to the law, and on elected officials who have to gauge where the majority and commonsense lies and change the law accordingly.

Dr Williams should withdraw his silly idea, and understand the important distinction between toleration, which is good, and the need for a single law, which is essential. The Archbishop and the Anglican Church should help those of us who want less law – and therefore more tolerance – to identify the further areas where we can relax and remove the need to boss people about. That would get him out of the large hole he has dug himself into.


  1. Bob Jones
    February 8, 2008

    Do you think (unofficial) Sharia courts should be outlawed, or do you like me believe between two consenting parties, and within the confines of the law, they can exercise judgement according to any principles they wish?

    Its worth noting that people of the Jewish faith have a similar thing called a Beth din, of course their principles are probably more inline with Western society.

    Reply: I am happy for religious groups to do anything they wish that is legal under UK law. What they cannot do is to compell people to accept their jurisdiction, or come to conclusions about how to proceeed that invite people to behave illegally.

  2. Susan
    February 8, 2008

    I think it would be better if the Archbishop were to apologise and withdraw his remarks, followed swiftly by his resignation as head of the Church of England. His remarks follow hard on the heels of the government's decision to condone polygamy, via the payments of benefits, for certain sections of society and to thousands of ordinary British people this is going too far down the path of appeasement. If he is such an intelligent man, why did he not foresee the controversy his comments would attract? It's time for him to go.

  3. Nick
    February 8, 2008

    Dr Williams should withdraw his silly idea, and understand the important distinction between toleration, which is good, and the need for a single law, which is essential.

    Here I disagree. Why should there be a single law?

    If you take civil contracts, there is very often agreement that differences are settled by binding arbitration. That is a parallel legal system set up in direct competition to the state monopoly. The reason being that its cheaper and faster.

    There doesn't have to be a single law, certainly when it comes to civil matters.

    I suspect what you really mean, is there is a need for a default law system, which gets used in case others don't.

    Take divorce. Even here the church currently gets involved in arbitration between parties. Both parties can opt out if they so choose.


    Reply: Yes, there needs to be a default or main system which is a state monopoly decided by an elected PArliament. There can be many other systems which people can aodpt willingly, as long as they obey the law.

  4. Rose
    February 8, 2008

    Sharia became inevitable when the Establishment decided to vilify rather than heed the prescience of Enoch Powell. But the overwhelming re-education which they then forced on the British people has not eradicated their inner fears, and the public outcry is therefore understandable, however much one may wish broadcasters and the public would read carefully what someone has said, rather than traducing it to stir people up.

    What is hard to stomach is the political class now turning on him for talking politely and thoughtfully, if in a rather muddled way, about the reality they have landed us with. The appointment of muddled prelates is only one legacy of that cultural revolution which was pushed through against the will of the people in the sixties and seventies.

  5. Colin Hart
    February 8, 2008

    At least the nation has been treated to a crash course in what used to be known as 'civics'. God moves in mysterious ways.

  6. Jim Walker
    February 9, 2008

    Was it Rowan Williams who spoke? Or was it a Rory Bremner impersonation. I find it increasingly difficult to tell the diffeence!

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