Two men who were protesting about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on Sharia law were arrested in Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday. They held up placards just as Rowan Williams was about to deliver his sermon.
The men, aged 26 and 56 and from Yorkshire, waved banners and shouted protests about the Archbishop’s comments. They were arrested and taken away by police who are considering charging them under the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act, 1860 (ECJA), which forbids interruption of church services and carried a potential penalty of seven years in prison.
People present at the event said it was a low-key affair and the men were led away peacefully by the police seconds after the protest began. However, the Archbishop then changed his sermon to speak of the persecution of Christians. (Seems he equates this fairly gentle protest with the jailing and murder of Christians in Muslim countries).
The NSS has had reason to protest about the ECJA in the past, when Peter Tatchell was arrested in Canterbury Cathedral for protesting at the previous Archbishop’s silence on gay rights (Read details here). In that instance, the NSS raised a petition calling for the law to be scrapped. In the end, Peter Tatchell was fined £18.60 – which was regarded as a message of contempt for the law by the magistrate who imposed it.
In the recent debate about blasphemy in the House of Lords, Lord Avebury tried to introduce an amendment abolishing the ECJA, but it was rejected by the Government, which was not in the mood for a further confrontation with the Church of England, who see it as one of their privileges.