Archbishop warns over restriction of freedoms

LONDON (Reuters) - The spiritual head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Rowan Williams, warned the authorities on Tuesday against restricting freedoms in relation to the Equality Bill assisted suicide.

The Archbishop of Canterbury told the General Synod, the Church of England’s parliament, that changes planned by the government and Crown Prosecution Service were in danger of crossing a “boundary.”

Debate over the Equality Bill and assisted suicide has put the church, and other faiths, on a collision course with officials in recent months.

Last month, CoE bishops helped defeat parts of the Equity Bill going through the House of Lords after expressing concern the church could be exposed to legal challenges if they refused to hire homosexuals or transsexuals in certain lay posts.

The Archbishop said that while the rights of gay and lesbian people was a matter of concern, the government should not settle debated moral questions for diverse communities of society.

“...What matters is that government acknowledges that there is a boundary that it is risky to cross without creating ideological powers for the state that could be deeply dangerous for liberty in general,” he said.

He urged caution from all those in the debate, saying there had been “fantastic overstatements from zealots on both sides.”

He also said that when gay and lesbian rights are threatened, as in legislation discussed in Uganda, “we quite rightly expressed repugnance.”

The CoE has also come out against assisted suicide in response to the Director of Public Prosecution’s consultation.

Williams told the Synod, during its week-long meeting in London, that the Church would “argue fiercely” that granting a legal right to die was “not only a moral mistake ... but the upsetting of a balance of freedoms.”

While saying the Church did not assume it had the right to impose any solution, he said assisted suicide could limit the freedoms of the more vulnerable into being “manipulated or harassed or simply demoralised when in a weakened position.”

“...The legal initiating of a process whose sole or main purpose is to end life is again to cross a moral boundary, and to enter some very dangerous territory in practical terms,” he said.

Instead, he supported the current state of the law, “with all its discretionary powers and nuances.”

Editing by Michael Holden