British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has come out to criticise the Pope for saying people who mocked Islam and other religions could “expect a punch”.
Cameron insisted that no one in a free society has the right to “wreak vengeance” on individuals who insult religion.
Pope Francis caused controversy last week when he said “provocateurs” such as the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who mocked religion should expect a response akin to a punch – comments seen as coming close to justifying the terrorist attacks in France. But in an interview with the US channel CBS, to be broadcast on Sunday, the PM said the right to cause offence was part of a free society.
In his interview with Face the Nation, recorded during his visit to Washington last week, Mr Cameron said: “I think in a free society, there is a right to cause offence about someone’s religion. 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 wreak 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.”
Speaking to journalists on the papal aircraft last week, the Pope said: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
Mr Cameron’s comments were echoed by Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford. Writing for The Independent on Sunday today, Lord Harries says: “I am a great admirer of the Pope, but when, to make the proper point that we should not insult the faith of others, he said his assistant could ‘expect a punch’ if he cursed his mother, I was aghast. The reference to a punch could easily be taken for a justification of violence in response to insult.” But the crossbench peer adds: “There is no justification for deliberately belittling any community that already feels marginalised and vulnerable, as does the Muslim community in France.”