I am trying to work out what to make of Archbishop Rowan's suggestion yesterday that the 'application of Sharia might be unavoidable' within the UK legal system.
I guess there are more than a few things to be fed up about in this country at the moment - like the Premier League playing exhibition games around the world for guess what.... yet more cash. But one of the truly great, enduring, hopeful characteristics that makes the United Kingdom still such a special place to count as home is the real freedom that we share because we all live under the one common law, a law that aims to protect everyone equally, regardless of background, status or religion. Remember Magna Carta from school? In the UK no-one is above the law - a law that has, broadly speaking, worked well for this nation over the centuries. In a liberal democracy, in theory, the common law creates the space in which all religions can thrive, and guarantees the freedom of individuals to pursue any religion or none.
I think that Archbishop Rowan's aim is to champion the place of religion in public life. But Trevor Phillips of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is worried about the potentially divisive nature of allowing a separate legal system to operate. It's important to look at the Archbishop of Canterbury's website for an explanation of the nuances in what he was saying. But I wonder if in the current world context arguing for application of religious law - of any religion - could be problematic? Sharia seems to be capable of being outworked in many different ways, some of which seem to be far from benign to women, children, gay people or other religious minorities. Our bishop John, the Bishop of Oxford has just released a response which highlights the Judaeo-Christian foundations of UK law and urges care and caution. Archbishop Rowan's suggestions and the debate that is ensuing will deserve time and attention.