16 August 2005

Methodist Church appeals for consensus on anti-terror laws

The Methodist Church is calling for the Government to seek a broad consensus on new anti-terrorism proposals following the London bombings. Although the Church recognises the need to give the police the necessary powers to effectively combat terrorism, there is concern that some fundamental rights and long-standing traditions of hospitality and refuge are threatened by several of the proposals.

Steve Hucklesby, Methodist Church Secretary for International Affairs, says, 'Our society currently faces the difficult challenge of ensuring the security of all whilst not eroding the fundamental human rights of which we are rightly proud. To meet this challenge it is necessary to encourage a climate of debate that is inclusive of a range of views in our multi- religious and multi-ethnic society.

'We encourage the Government to foster broad cross-party consensus as it explores changes to legislation in the light of the London bombings. There will be widespread support for some of the Government's anti-terror proposals. However some appear to go beyond what we need to ensure our security, raising questions concerning fundamental rights and challenging our tradition of providing a safe haven for those who flee persecution. Other proposals raise questions concerning the independence of the judiciary or seemingly fail to recognise that there is often a gulf between 'extremist' and 'criminal'.

'For example, many will question how the proposal to introduce new powers to close down places of worship will be balanced with fundamental rights regarding freedom to worship, or indeed how effective such measures will be. It is right that we re-examine measures to enable the police to ensure our security but the Government must give serious attention to the scope for enhancing existing powers before proposing new legislation.

'The opportunity for public debate is valuable. The Government's reaffirmation of its desire for consultation with the Muslim community is welcome. However such consultation is going to be more difficult if founded on proposals that are unclear and create suspicion. Ultimately terrorism cannot be defeated by security measures alone.'

The Church is also reaffirming its support for Muslims in their conversations and debates about the roots of terrorism and extremism within their communities. Elizabeth Harris, Methodist Church Secretary for Interfaith relations, says 'Since July 7th dialogue among Muslims about the causes of terrorism and religious extremism has intensified. Christians have helped this process though showing friendship and solidarity. Legislation that might push underground those Muslims tempted by extremism could hinder this dialogue and increase divisions within the Muslim community, thereby strengthening extremism.'

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