URC comes out in support of Williams over Sharia comments

The United Reformed Church has expressed its support for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, over his comments on Sharia law.

Deputy General Secretary, the Rev Ray Adams, said: "It is an important debate and we welcome the Archbishop's initiative in raising the issue. We regret the extent to which his comments have been misrepresented and misunderstood.

"It is clear that he was not calling for the incorporation of Sharia law into the English legal system."

Dr Williams questioned in a lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice last Thursday the extent to which the British legal system could and should accommodate religious beliefs, taking the Muslim legal framework of Sharia as his primary example.

In an interview with the BBC earlier in the day, Dr Williams said that the accommodation of some aspects of Sharia into the current legal system was "unavoidable" in religiously diverse Britain. He stressed, however, that he was not advocating parallel jurisdictions for Muslims and non-Muslims, but rather 'overlapping jurisdictions' that would ensure those under Sharia were still subject to British law.

Dr Williams further clarified his comments in subsequent statements and defended them to the Church of England General Synod on Monday.

"We are not talking about parallel jurisdictions; and I tried to make clear that there could be no 'blank cheques' in this regard, in particular as regards some of the sensitive questions about the status and liberties of women," he told Synod. "The law of the land still guarantees for all the basic components of human dignity."

While the law had so far provided space for conscientious objection on religious grounds, Dr Williams continued by warning, however, that "there are signs that this cannot necessarily be taken quite so easily for granted as the assumptions of our society become more secular".

He urged Christians and other faith groups to come together to reflect on the relation between faith and law.

The URC's Rev Adams gave his backing to the Archbishop's remarks.

"Clearly this is an issue for society, given our increasingly plural religious make-up," he said.

"How do civil secular law and religious plurality engage with one another, especially with regard to matters of religious conscience?

"This goes to the heart of the debate about the place of religion in the public arena."