Religion news 13 March 2024

Image credit: Church of England

Archbishops warn government’s new definition of extremism will risk more division

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have warned that the government’s new extremism definition risks disproportionately targeting Muslim communities and “driving us apart”. The new definition is expected to be announced by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, on Thursday. The Times says he will also announce the creation of a new counter-extremism “centre of excellence” whose job will be to name groups and individuals who promote an ideology based on intolerance, hatred or violence that aims to undermine or overturn the rights and freedoms of others, undermines the UK’s liberal system of democracy, or intentionally creates a permissive environment for others to do so. The Guardian reports that Mr Gove is intending to name in parliament some of the groups falling within the new definition of extremism, despite legal implications. The Archbishops warn that labelling a multi-faceted problem as hateful extremism may “vilify the wrong people and risk yet more division”.

A Religion Media Centre briefing on tackling religious hatred will take place at 1200 today over zoom. Guests include Akeela Ahmed, chair of independent members on the government’s anti-Muslim hatred working group, which has not met for four years; Imam Qari Asim, who was the sacked as the government’s adviser on Islamophobia in 2022 after comments on the “Our Lady of Heaven” film and has not been replaced; and Daniel Sugarman, public affairs director at the Board of Deputies. Zoom link from: [email protected]

No evidence of Church of England ‘conveyor belt’ for asylum claims

MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee interrogated church leaders over claims that there was a conveyor belt of asylum seekers lining up to be baptised in order to further their asylum claims. The suggestion was made by the Rev Matthew Firth, now with the Free Church of England, who once served in Darlington. He told the committee that groups of six or seven asylum seekers who had failed their first application, would be brought to him at his CofE church every few weeks to be baptised. He was suspicious, paused the process, asked for greater church involvement and they melted away. Several MPs on the committee hailed him as a whistle blower and brave, but his diocese said there had only been 15 baptisms of people who may have been asylum seekers at his church over ten years. The Bishop of Chelmsford, Guli Francis-Dehqani, told the committee she did not know the details of that case, but there was no evidence to suggest the church was facilitating scams and CofE guidance told clergy to be vigilant with people seeking baptism. She was called to give evidence alongside Canon Christopher Thomas, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and the Rev Steve Tinning, public issues enabler at the Baptist Union. He told the committee that the Baptist church in Weymouth had received threats after describing their Christian friendship towards asylum seekers on board the Bibby Stockholm barge, moored nearby. He told MPs there was a responsibility on all concerned to use their words on this issue with care.

Moves to allow assisted dying in the UK and France

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has promised to give MPs a vote on legalising assisted dying if Labour wins the general election. He made the promise in a recorded phone call with Dame Esther Rantzen who has terminal cancer, indicating there would be a free vote so the law could be changed before 2030. President Macron of France has announced that he will present a bill allowing a terminally ill person to self-administer a lethal substance or request another person to do so.  It follows a consultation last year where a majority were in favour of the move. But French Catholic bishops, who have advocated for strengthening palliative care, rejected the bill saying the law would bend the whole health system towards death as a solution.

 US commission cuts short visit to Saudia Arabia after rabbi told to remove head covering

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has cut short its visit to Saudi Arabia after its chairman, the Orthodox rabbi Abraham Cooper, refused their requests that he remove his religious head covering.  The rabbi and vice-chairman, the Rev Frederick Davie, were touring a heritage site during an official visit when he was asked to remove his kippah, head covering, while at the site and in public. The Commission said it was particularly regrettable it happened to the representative of “an American government agency that promotes religious freedom”.


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