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Archbishop of Canterbury says gov regulation alone cannot protect freedom of speech

by Kelly Valencia

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said he believes freedom of speech is a “is a necessary condition” to building “good” and “safe” communities and warned against trying to "legislate ourselves to good behaviour".

Speaking in the House of the Lords, Most Rev Justin Welby said he believed government regulation alone does not protect freedom of speech.

“If freedom of speech is to flourish in this country despite its enemies, we must foster those habits of the heart and the mind that encourage a society that listens, reflects, and responds with generosity and grace,” Archbishop Justin said.

He went on to say he believes there are three “major threats” to freedom of speech - “the fear of reprisal, the distortion of truth, and the dehumanisation of those with whom we disagree" – whilst adding he was in favour of “a maximalist and communitarian approach” when addressing the principle of freedom of speech.

Archbishop Justin also recalled the time a columnist for The Spectator hoped he would be “mugged at knifepoint by a gang of refugees” and said he did not feel “threatened or for that matter offended.”

“Not only because I doubt many refugees are avid readers of his column, but because like my predecessors I stand here in a position of privilege, which though it makes me noticed, also confers security,” he added.

The head of the Church of England also told peers of the importance of being reminded of “the huge security we have in this country” as many people around the world “can’t speak freely” or “practice their faith freely, or refuse all faith freely” and said that “our understanding of the importance of freedom of speech and the threats to it, needs to keep pace with the threats to its existence.”

He concluded: “I believe that God’s purpose for humanity is not to have fearful slaves, but loving children. We are called to treat each other as we would ourselves like to be treated – with recognition of our flawed-ness, space for forgiveness and support of our freedom. In so doing we are able to create good communities of justice, truth and generosity.”

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