Friday, February 08, 2008

Archbishop Forgets Last Three Millennia of Struggle for the Rule of Law

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that one law for everyone is not a good idea. Instead, Rowan Williams said Muslims in the UK should be allowed to have Sharia law, at least in some way or to some extent. Articles have appeared on Feb. 7 at "Cranmer" (, "if Sam . . ." (, "Gates of Vienna" ( and elsewhere.

Americans, Englishman, and many others (even Frenchmen) have fought for centuries against the idea of special castes and classes with separate laws. Part of real freedom is the idea that everyone is equal before the law and subject to the same law, and we make the law the most reasonable, proportionate, enlightened and prudent compromise between human weakness and pure morality that we can achieve in a society as a whole, with added respect for liberty to choose among goods, and with a healthy margin of safety against tyranny.

Some people claim that human laws are all about power and interest groups. If that were true, what the Archbishop proposes might make sense. But it is not so. Law is about unity and justice and mercy - about punishing evil and coordinating for the common good. There can be no justice if we licence some people to do things we know to be wrong because they belong to a group we are afraid of.

There is nothing wrong with protecting religious liberty with the occasional religious exemption. It is sometimes appropriate not to make some things that are immoral illegal because people cannot or will not abide by the law. Occasionally society cannot agree on what is best either because the application of morality is unclear or because the facts are unclear, and in those instances we often leave people at liberty. But when, as with slavery, something is wrong, even though it is popular with those who profit by it, we struggle for equality under the law for all human beings - even if a few examples with "Stockholm syndrome" or "false consciousness" can be found to claim that they love being in slavery.

We cannot let Sharia become the law of a separate caste within the west. We do so at our peril.

UPDATE: Williams did say in the interview "That principle that there is only one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a western democracy" which makes his conclusion even more puzzling.

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