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Photo Credit: Danny Lawson/ PA Wire/ PA Images
Photo Credit: Danny Lawson/ PA Wire/ PA Images
UK News

'We have to be open to hearing things we really dislike': Justin Welby raises concern over Mohammad cartoon protests at school

by Tola Mbakwe

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said people should value the importance of freedom of speech, even when it's insulting to their faith. 

Most Rev Justin Welby was referring to recent protests outside Batley Grammar School, near Bradford, West Yorkshire. 

The protests followed claims a member of staff had shown students a cartoon, widely reported as taken from the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, deemed offensive to the Islamic faith during a religious studies lesson last week.

The school "unequivocally" apologised for showing "totally inappropriate" material to children and said a member of staff was suspended pending an investigation.

However, the school is facing calls to reinstate the teacher after a petition in support of him reached more than 60,000 signatures.

In an interview with Italian newspaper la Repubblica, Archbishop Justin was asked if the situation posed a conflict about freedom of speech. 

He said he believed there is conflict on the matter in some parts of the world "because people feel very, very strongly," but urged for people in the UK to stand up for right to freedom of speech, despite how offensive it may be. 

"…in this country, I think, we have to hold on to freedom of speech," he told la Repubblica

"We have very good relationships with Muslim leaders across the country. Many of them are very upset by the cartoons that were shown but also many of them have said no violence, no threats, make it clear that you disagree strongly, but no violence, no threats. 

"In other words, exercise your freedom of speech, but don't prevent other people exercising their freedom of speech."

He added that stopping freedom of expression of religion is "entirely wrong" and insisted people must be able to speak freely. 

"I'm much more towards the US end of the spectrum on freedom of speech than I am elsewhere towards the other end. I think we have to be open to hearing things we really dislike. There was someone the other day who was saying 'the Archbishop of Canterbury who believes in fairies at the bottom of the garden'. Well, obviously, I entirely disagree with his assessment of the Christian faith, or the person of Jesus Christ. But I'm very glad that he feels able to say that, and I don't want to threaten them for saying it. I don't think he should be threatened."

Archbishop Justin also claimed that religious blasphemy is "morally a bad choice" but should not "be a criminal matter". 

It was announced on Tuesday that there will be an independent investigation into the recent events at Batley Grammar School. 

The trust behind the school says it will make recommendations around the religious studies curriculum so that appropriate lessons can be learned.

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