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Gledhill: ++Williams Backs New Law against ‘Thoughtless and Cruel’ Speech

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 • 1:58 pm

The sooner this man is no longer Archbishop of Canterbury, the better:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has called for new laws to protect religious sensibilities that would punish “thoughtless and cruel” styles of speaking.

Dr Williams, who has seen his own Anglican Communion riven by fierce invective over homosexuality, said the current blasphemy law was “unworkable” and he had no objection to its repeal.

But whatever replaces it should “send a signal” about what was acceptable.

I’d like to “send a signal” to Rowan Williams:


Take up woodworking.

Putter in your garden.

Anything, as long as it doesn’t involve being the Archbishop of Canterbury, or making public statements. On anything.

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Now recruiting for the Thought Police….

[1] Posted by AnglicanXn on 01-29-2008 at 03:08 PM • top

Wow!  Legislating silence from the majority, if not all middle school aged children in Great Britain.

[2] Posted by Rom 1:16 on 01-29-2008 at 03:10 PM • top

The ABofC seems to have the same disease that KJS has. Everytime he engages in public politics his true colors get brighter!

[3] Posted by TLDillon on 01-29-2008 at 03:11 PM • top

Some days I’m proud to be an American.
No official church.
No real restrictions on speech.
No real restrictions on religion.
Absolute freedom to be as mean, hateful and cruel verbally as I please.
Absolute freedom for other people to be that way to me.

The only thing that baffles me is how eagerly some people embrace their chains.

Working on being my own hate crime

[4] Posted by Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) on 01-29-2008 at 03:17 PM • top

What.  A.  Blithering.  Idiot.

[5] Posted by Christopher Johnson on 01-29-2008 at 03:31 PM • top

Has there been any discussion considering the writing of letters to Queen Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church of England imploring her in intercede? My rector and I were discussing this as a serious (though possibly futile) course.

Her Majesty The Queen
Buckingham Palace
London SW1A 1AA

Remember her part in the Jeffrey Johns affair?

[6] Posted by kmfrye on 01-29-2008 at 03:48 PM • top

“When Facism comes to America it will be with a smiley face and not wearing Brown Shirts or jack boots” - George Carlin

[7] Posted by chips on 01-29-2008 at 03:48 PM • top

of course the ABC; (Arch Bishop of Change); would love to see Canadian style anti-hate laws as the law of the land affecting future Lambeth conferences…  That way, those pesky Christians that believe the Bible could one day in the future be arrested and / or sued for daring to speak the Biblical Truth at “his abc” council meeting…

[8] Posted by Truthseeker on 01-29-2008 at 04:11 PM • top

I will withold judgment until I can read the text of the speech.  It seems that there are currently a couple of laws that are not working, and the ABC seems to have no problem with them being repealed.  That just makes sense to me.  Why have unworkable laws on the books. 

From the article, it looks like what he wants would be a clear signal in the new legislation as to what is acceptable and unacceptable.  He also seems to want to protect discussion by prohibiting activities that intimidate people from entering dialogue.  I see nothing wrong with that.  Any law that is passed should define the prohibited activities in a way that everyone can understand, and yes, certain types of speech should be illegal in a civil society. 

If you read the whole article, it is difficult to figure out exactly what the ABC said.  There is the critique of the secularist, but I cannot read his comments without assuming that he is exagerating.  I do not think that the ABC justified riots and threats of murder any more than Ronald Reagan wanted to take away the homes of the elderly (as he was accused of by his political adversaries). 

In any case, as I read the entire article, it does not sound like the ABC is proposing anything.  It appears that he assumes that something is in the works, and says that whatever is in the works needs to take into account what is “just and good.” 

I am not sure why this article has sparked the comment that the ABC should take up woodworking.  That, it seems to me, misses the point of Matthew 5:43-45.

[9] Posted by revrj on 01-29-2008 at 04:33 PM • top

#9 revrj

From the article, it looks like what he wants would be a clear signal in the new legislation as to what is acceptable and unacceptable.

Who gets to decide what is acceptable and not acceptable? That will be a very tricky position for someone or someones.

[10] Posted by TLDillon on 01-29-2008 at 04:42 PM • top

and yes, certain types of speech should be illegal in a civil society

And what types of speech would those be? And who would determine the bounds of that speech?

Look at what is happening in Canada, where the “human rights council” has found against the defendant in every case. George Orwell and though crimes are not far behind.

The founders of our country recognized that free speech is essential for the preservation of liberty. We, or England, abandon the fundamental right to free speech at our peril.

[11] Posted by BillS on 01-29-2008 at 04:45 PM • top


I have no doubt that you are a good, decent and nice person. But I will fight you tooth and nail against restricting freedom of speech, press and other communication. As the previous two posters mentioned, one problem is who decides what speech is naughty and therefore prohibited? The other is how do you discuss issues that come up, like racism or sexism, without running afould of the laws that punish such speech.

There are two troubling cases of this going on in Canada right now. Thanks but no thanks, if living in a free society means I have to tolerate neo-nazis, skinheads and other such crtetins and pinheads, than that is a price well worth paying.

The advantage of freedom of speech is that the idiots and fools are free to speak, do so and so identify themselves as such.

Working on being my own hate crime

[12] Posted by Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) on 01-29-2008 at 04:53 PM • top

it does not sound like the ABC is proposing anything.  It appears that he assumes that something is in the works, and says that whatever is in the works needs to take into account what is “just and good.”

The choice the ABC has is not between “bad” and “worse”; he could say, “No such laws have any place in a truly free society.”

[13] Posted by Greg Griffith on 01-29-2008 at 04:54 PM • top

ODC #10

I suppose it is parliament that gets to decide, which is always a bit dangerous. 

Let us not forget that certain speech in the US has not been considered protected.  It is illegal to make threats.  That is a good law.  There is a tort for libel and slander.  That is a good law.  You cannot use your speech to incite a riot.  That is a good law.  You cannot ask your secretary for certain favors.  That is a good law.  It is a recognized legal principle, even in the US, where freedom of expression is held dear, that certain types of speech cannot be protected if you wish to maintain a civil society. 

It is always trickey to draw the boundaries, however, they do have to be drawn.

[14] Posted by revrj on 01-29-2008 at 04:54 PM • top

Some people need to be told in no uncertain terms to grow an epidermis.  The ABC is not referring to inciting to riot, libel, or espionage.  He is setting the bar at thoughtless and cruel, and that is far too low a bar for anyone who would not be a whispering serf to tolerate.

[15] Posted by Ed the Roman on 01-29-2008 at 04:59 PM • top

#12 “There are two troubling cases of this going on in Canada right now. Thanks but no thanks, if living in a free society means I have to tolerate neo-nazis, skinheads and other such crtetins and pinheads, than that is a price well worth paying.”

I agree until the neo-nazis are printing material that calls for the burning of a local synagogue, or the Skinheads hang nooses on the lockers of students to intimidate them from coming to school, or someone is standing at the burial of a gay man with picket signs that say he is burning in hell while the family is in mourning.  If you want to fight tooth and nail for the rights of some to intimidate others with threats, feel free.  I will be on the other side fighting for the rights of students to attend school without being intimidated, for the rights of the Jews to worship without fear and for the right of a family to mourn their loss without someone shouting that he is burning in hell.

[16] Posted by revrj on 01-29-2008 at 05:07 PM • top


In case you didn’t already know, what these laws are really meant to do is shield Muslims from any criticism at all. The next step is to begin imposing Islam on British schools and government, and by extension its people.

[17] Posted by Greg Griffith on 01-29-2008 at 05:16 PM • top


All of those are examples of horrible conduct. All of them are currently legal in the US. I intend that that condition should remain.

I do not trust myself to decide what ought or ought not be permitted to to be said. Given that, I do not trust anyone else either.

The reality of freedom of speech is that when nooses are tacked to lockers, the perpetrators get denounced, quite vehemently. They get shunned and screamed at and condemned by all good people. That is the appropriate response.

The Phelpsians draw large crowds of counter-protestors these days. There are also volunteers that provide honour guards at soldiers funerals to intimidate Fred and family. Did you know that? That is also appropriate.

Gay groups also regularly target the Phelps tribe with counter-protests and other acts of civil disagreement.

If we are to continue as a free society, we must learn to tolerate disagreement and to respond appropriately, no matter how vile the provocation.

I commend Matthew 5 to you, especially the bit beginning at verse 38. Which way of proceeding is best in line with what Jesus discussed? Which is more loving? Which is more likely to convict the hearts of malefactors?

Working on being my own hate crime

[18] Posted by Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) on 01-29-2008 at 05:32 PM • top

#9 revrj
I see the whole of the speech by the ABC has now been posted on his website here

No need to look at the review when one can read the book.

[19] Posted by Pageantmaster ن on 01-29-2008 at 06:03 PM • top

The legal provision should keep before our eyes the general risks of debasing public controversy by thoughtless and, even if unintentionally, cruel styles of speaking and acting,” he said.

Dear ++Rowan:

There are many, many people in this world who are offended by the Cross of Christ, and are even more offended that they should be lumped in with the crowd of sinners (which includes 100% of the human beings on the planet).

Are you suggesting, sir, that we should no longer spread the News that Christ came to save sinners, due to the possibility that someone may consider it to be a “thoughtless and, even if unintentionally, cruel [style] of speaking”?

[20] Posted by DeeBee on 01-29-2008 at 06:09 PM • top

#19, Thank you for the link. I’ve finished my first reading of it. I anticipate a very good night’s sleep tonight after my second reading.

I get breezy here

[21] Posted by Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) on 01-29-2008 at 06:15 PM • top

#21 Dee Bee - I know what you mean

[22] Posted by Pageantmaster ن on 01-29-2008 at 06:27 PM • top

Sorry that’s Mousesleeper

[23] Posted by Pageantmaster ن on 01-29-2008 at 06:28 PM • top

Well, as long as we’re outlawing overt threats and incitment to riot, why wouldn’t we make the next logical step and throw people into the dock for being thoughtless and cruel?  I think not extending one’s pinky at tea ought to get your mitt chopped off too, ++Rowan.  I mean, how rude…

[24] Posted by Jeffersonian on 01-29-2008 at 07:31 PM • top

#18 “All of those are examples of horrible conduct. All of them are currently legal in the US. I intend that that condition should remain.”

Actually, they are not legal.  Threatening others is not legal.  Don’t take my word for it, check with an attorney.  I can give you the name of a good civil rights attorney in Chicago who taught my constitutional law class in college.  The picketing is legal if it is kept far enough away.  However, you cannot stand in the cemetery next to the mourners. 

I think that Matthew 5 would say that you should protect the rights of others to express ideas.  To say that Matthew 5 protects the ability of others to threaten the safety of others is, I think, a bit of a stretch.  Jesus is as concerned with protecting the innocent as he is with protecting the guilty.  Can you honestly say that it is loving to protect people who threaten vulnerable people?

[25] Posted by revrj on 01-29-2008 at 08:54 PM • top


I stand by what I said. I think I’m up on the current civil rights case law, both federally and in my locality.

You may think that you are protecting the vulnerable in advocating such laws. You endanger them for the reasons previously expressed by myself and others.

I deliberately cited the Sermon on the Mount. The proper response is to reply firmly if someone else is being threatened. Let the offender know that their actions will not be without consequence. There is absolutely no need to criminalize such speech. If you are threatened respond with love.

Yelling, screaming and glowering may be intimidating, but they are not actions. They cause no physical harm. Criminal law interjects the use of force, not in response to force, or the reasonable apprehension of the use of force, but to mere words. Even in an ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ system of justice, it is an over-reaction. In a civil society, it’s a gross reaction based upon a visceral response on behalf of hypothetical third parties.

I leave you with a quote from one of my favourite musicals: “Well, in all my years I ain’t never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about. Hell yeah! I’m for debating anything.” Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island.

You wish to protect, but your plan will chill freedom, and that is intolerable in a democracy. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, check out these sites.

Working on being my own hate crime

[26] Posted by Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) on 01-29-2008 at 09:24 PM • top

Hmm.  When you actually read the entire lecture, it becomes easy to see why you would want to be rid of someone who says such things….

A polemical strategy that refuses from the start to accept that anyone could have reasons for thinking differently is a poor basis for civil disagreement (in both the wider and narrower sense of the adjective); it is a way of denying the other a hearing.

It is abundantly true, unfortunately, that Christianity, like some other religious traditions, has itself at times in its history been scandalously bad about this, and has established models of abusive and demeaning talk about ‘the other’ (Jewish, Muslim, heretical, unbelieving) that are as bad as anything that any contemporary Christian might complain about in the mouth of a militant atheist.

I have suggested two points to ponder here.  The first is to do with the far more general issue of civility in controversy: a coarsening of the style of public debate and a lack of imagination about the experience and self-perception of others, especially those from diverse ethnic and cultural contexts, the arrogant assumption of the absolute ‘naturalness’ of one’s own position – none of this makes for an intelligent public discourse or for anything like actual debate, as opposed to plain assertion.

It can reasonably be argued that a powerful or dominant religious body has every chance of putting its own case, and that one might take with a pinch of salt any claim that it was being silenced by public criticism; but the sound of a prosperous and socially secure voice claiming unlimited freedom both to define and to condemn the beliefs of a minority grates on the ear.

[27] Posted by Craig Uffman on 01-30-2008 at 12:03 AM • top

Several of you seem to be talking past each other.  Incitement to murder, to riot, to burn buildings—these things are already illegal and rightly so.  They constitute deliberate efforts to materially harm other people.  What the Archbishop seems to be talking about, rather, is speech which hurts peoples’ feelings.  This means things like criticizing someone’s religion, political views, and even making unpleasant comments about his person, character and intellect.  If the speech causes personal harm, there are slander and libel laws to take care of it.  If it causes hurt feelings, that’s something that people just have to accept.

The danger is that the British may be moving towards a system like India’s, in which it is a criminal offense to criticize religion because it “hurts the religious sensibilities of the people.”  The speech does not have to be false to be criminal.  Saying, for instance, “The Ramayana is only a legend, not true,” can land you in court.

[28] Posted by Katherine on 01-30-2008 at 12:10 AM • top


I think the man said something fatuous and fatheaded. And not for the reasons you cited. My reasons are quite clearly stated. That doesn’t mean he should be gotten rid of. It does mean that he ought to think about what he is saying and consider the full implications of his remarks when he speaks outside his area of knowledge.

For a much better critique of the Archbishop of Centerbury’s ill considered remarks, try here.

Episcopal Lawsuits: Information, Please

[29] Posted by Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) on 01-30-2008 at 05:37 AM • top

Please try to remember that not everything which the Archbishop of Canterbury does in England has a direct read-over to the USA. This is an internal UK matter. The week before last there was a concerted effort to remove the blasphemy laws from UK statute law by a coalition of secular MPs. It came very close to passing and was held off by the Government and the Church agreeing to work together to find a new form of words which would continue to provide the protection which the Established Church has always enjoyed while seeking to extend it to other religions. That way the secularists’ arguments fall down with the exception of the freedom of speech argument (which wasn’t their main objection - they dressed the measure up as being about “equality” towards other religions).

[30] Posted by Marcus on 01-30-2008 at 09:49 AM • top

Let’s see-thoughtless and cruel-  Discussion of Anglican ecclesiology will soon be banned in England!

[31] Posted by phil swain on 01-30-2008 at 11:15 AM • top

This is a touch blunter than I really intend, as dinner is cooking and I am posting rapidly.
I have 2 questions (and I will respond on my own blog when I have digested the ABC’s lecture).
1 - How many of the prominent bloggers (Instapundit et al) diving into this have read the lecture rather than the Times report. We all know how simplistic and inflammatory recent Time Online reports of ABC speeches have been. Why are people even taking any notice of a report on the ABC in that paper?
2 - Echoing Mousestalker, this is the ABC talking in a memorial lecture to a British Prime Minister about British Law reflecting British history in a British context in his role as a participant in the British political process.
WTF (is that allowed on here - apologies if not) are all these North Americans sticking their oar into our internal political debate for? What’s it got to do with them?
I’m tempted to say “butt out” (it’s what Instapundit et al would say to us if we did the same thing with North American laws), but I haven’t spent enough time reflecting yet to know whether that’s what I think.
We all know:
a) What happened when Brits attempted to have an influence North American elections (cf the “twinning” project the Guardian newspaper ran last time).
b) How resolute ECUSA has been in defending their “ecclesiastical sovereignty”, regardless of the impact on the rest of the Communion (recognising that many readers of SF probably don’t have much truck with the national ECUSA leadership at this time).
Just my tuppence - for now.

[32] Posted by mattwardman on 01-30-2008 at 01:32 PM • top

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has called for new laws to protect religious sensibilities that would punish “thoughtless and cruel” styles of speaking.

As opposed to the witty and snarky comments that we see here on SFiF?

[33] Posted by Piedmont on 01-30-2008 at 02:13 PM • top

Hello mattwardman and welcome

There are a few Brits on here and our American friends put up with us mouthing off on their affairs usually with some courtesy.  As you know we also discuss American politics far more than Americans discuss ours.

This lecture has been posted or trumpeted on the ABC’s site, ACNS and other Communion sites and emailed elsewhere as far as I can see - it is all over the blogosphere.  I agree that it is good to read the original which is why I linked it above at #19 above.

I have read it twice but as with many things I read from the ABC there are many different and wonderful facets and depths to explore so I look forward to your contribution when you have had your din-dins.

[btw I believe Ms Gledhill is a very nice lady and in the absence of much quality religious coverage in the UK I am very grateful for her.]


[34] Posted by Pageantmaster ن on 01-30-2008 at 02:18 PM • top

BTW, my prediction was correct. I found the second reading rather restful. I can now recommend it to anyone who is suffering from insomnia without qualification.

Although I did have an odd dream of a short bearded man dancing around a henge chanting “Ble mae’r toiled?”

I get breezy here

[35] Posted by Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) on 01-30-2008 at 02:25 PM • top

I did find myself taking little naps as I went through it but it had been a long day - that must be it mousetalker

[36] Posted by Pageantmaster ن on 01-30-2008 at 02:31 PM • top

This is truly a scary proposition.  Can you imagine the commenatrix with handcuffs, pepper spray and a German shepherd?  I’m quaking in my boots at the mere thought of the impending reign of terror!

[37] Posted by Piedmont on 01-30-2008 at 02:31 PM • top


Thanks - I’ve visited occasionally.

I’m not saying “butt out” to Standfirm commentators (my apologies to any who have assumed that I was saying that, but I think I was clear) - rather to the likes of Instapundit who is shooting from the hip on the basis of an inaccurate report (he is a Law Professor and should know better).

I’m planning 2 responses - one will be a response to various bloggers, the other will be an account and response to what the ABC actually said.

On my first reading, he makes (as usual) some excellent points, for example that unchallenged insults and discrimination against minorities can end up with physical violence and worse (I’d point to our history of - national and Church of England - treatment of Jews, RCs and Non Conformists over centuries).

I like Ruth too, but recently she’s been - in my view - off form when reporting on the ABC.

Matt W

[38] Posted by mattwardman on 01-30-2008 at 02:41 PM • top

Thanks mattwardman

Ruth and Lambeth seem to have some history but perhaps they are bestest mates now - anyway she was invited to the Lambeth launch.

I look forward to reading your thoughts on the speech when I come back from a meeting.  To be fair to Ruth I am not sure that the full text was available when she wrote her piece - there was another press release with bleeding chunks ripped from it by the ABC’s office.

[39] Posted by Pageantmaster ن on 01-30-2008 at 02:53 PM • top

Just my tuppence - for now.

Say that while you can. (€)


[40] Posted by Ed the Roman on 01-30-2008 at 03:47 PM • top

OK guys. First article is up here:
We’re planning at least 2 more:
  1.    Looking at what the ABC has said, and reacting to it. This should be out this evening, with more detail later. (this evening - aleady written)
  2.    Responding to the over-hasty reactions of some bloggers, and how I think that is cheapening an important debate. This should be out on Friday. (tomorrow)
Matt W

[41] Posted by mattwardman on 01-31-2008 at 10:19 AM • top

You can get an early preview of the “response to the ABC’s lecture” here.
on David Keen’s blog “St Alban to Abbey Moor”.
I’ll be publishing a slightly edited version this evening in 10 hours (I can’t face the time calculations).

[42] Posted by mattwardman on 01-31-2008 at 10:48 AM • top

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