‘We need to stand for freedom of speech’: Justin Welby urges faith leaders to stamp out radicalism

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby arrives at the Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity in Burundi's capital Bujumbura, in this March 3, 2016, file photo.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby arrives at the Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity in Burundi's capital Bujumbura, in this March 3, 2016, file photo. | Reuters/Evrard Ngendakumana/Files

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby defended free speech following a spate of Islamist extremist terror attacks in France and Austria. 

Speaking in response to the terrorist attacks, the leader of the global Anglican Communion said it's essential that people "stand up for free speech," emphasizing that God is "big enough" to endure insults from any group.

"[R]eligious leaders need to take responsibility for their own communities. I've been saying that for years," Welby told ITV's "Good Morning Britain" on Thursday. 

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"Secondly, we need to realize that this is a sort of spin-off, very small, tiny minority from Islam.

"Thirdly, we need to stand for freedom of speech. And I think that is one of the key things. I'm glad the Church of England was one of those organizations that supported the abolition of the blasphemy laws."

"[I]f people insult God, God's big enough to deal with that," he continued, elaborating that the church will continue "to pray and love and serve. And allow freedom of speech, allow criticism, allow people to say what they want to say."

"I'm not frightened of freedom of speech," the archbishop said.

Welby said he considers it "appalling" and "beyond description" when people commit murder in the name of attacking free speech.

His remarks come after a 47-year-old teacher named Samuel Paty was shot dead and beheaded near Paris after he showed his class a caricature of the Islamic prophet Muhammad from the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo as part of a lesson on free speech.

In response to the teacher's murder, tens of thousands of people rallied across France in defense of free speech. 

The archbishop also recently objected to another round of government-enforced COVID-19 lockdown restrictions on communal worship services, signing a letter with leaders from several faiths to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson asserting that the bans on public worship services were unacceptable.

“Given the significant work we have already done, we consider there to be, now, no scientific justification for the wholesale suspension of public worship,” the letter reads.

“Our commitment to care for others comes directly from our faith, which must be sustained and strengthened by our meeting together in common worship,” the leaders explained, noting the role that communities of faith have done to help people amid the pandemic.

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