19 January 2015, The Tablet

Cameron disagrees with Pope on freedom of speech

The Prime Minister has said that there is a right to offend someone’s religious faith – disagreeing with Pope Francis’ comments on freedom of speech.

On the papal plane to the Philippines last week, Francis said that it was wrong to insult another person’s religion, and suggested there are limits to the right to free expression.

Francis made the remarks days after 1.6 million people took to the streets of Paris in defence of free speech horrified by the Islamist murders of 12 people at the offices of the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, which has published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Its cover last week, the first after the massacre, depicted Muhammad underneath the words “All is forgiven”.

But when asked about Pope Francis remarks by the American television channel CBS, David Cameron said: "I think in a free society, there is a right to cause offence about someone's religion."

He went on: "I'm a Christian – if someone says something offensive about Jesus, I might find that offensive, but in a free society I don't have a right to, sort of, wreak my vengeance on them. We have to accept that newspapers, magazines, can publish things that are offensive to some, as long as it’s within the law. That is what we should defend.”

However there have been protests in a number of Muslim-majority countries over the magazine’s decision to depict Muhammad on its cover. Muslims have taken to the streets in Niger, Sudan, Somalia, Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Algeria, Jordan, Pakistan and the Russian republic of Chechnya to express their anger.

In Niger there were reports of three deaths in the capital, Niamey, and another five in the second city, Zinder. Some 45 churches were set on fire or looted, the BBC reported, and three of the dead were found in churches.

In the Pakistani city of Quetta on Sunday, protestors burned an effigy of French President François Hollande. French flags were burnt in the north-west city of Peshawar and central Multan and rallies have been held in the capital Islamabad and the eastern city of Lahore. On Thursday Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif led Pakistan's parliament in condemning the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

Mr Cameron and US President Barack Obama on Saturday announced plans to share expertise on preventing radicalism and tackling domestic "violent extremism". Speaking at the White House during a two-day visit to Washington Mr Cameron warned that both nations faced a "poisonous and fanatical ideology".

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99