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UK church questions why gov't targets places of worship


London, IRNA:

The Church of England is challenging the British government on why it is trying to single out places of worship in its campaign to root out extremism following July bombings in London.

The Bishop of Southwark, Rt. Revd Tom Butler, said that the government's controversial proposals, which includes giving the police powers to close down places of worship, were "disproportionate." "Other places of gathering are far more likely than places of worship to be used for the purposes the government has in mind and one must question why places of worship have been singled out," the bishop said in a statement obtained by IRNA.

Last week, Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced that he would be consulting until November on his proposals, published in a paper on 'Preventing Extremism Together - Places of Worship' before proceeding with necessary legislation.

Under the proposals, which are seed directed at mosques, Clarke said he was considering creating a legal process whereby those controlling places of worship can be required by a court order to take steps to stop "certain extremist behavior" occurring.

But regardless of whether a person is successfully prosecuted for failure to comply with the order, he said that a further order could still be issued restricting the use of the place of worship, including temporary closure.

"There are about 40,000 churches in Britain of which 16,000 are in the Church of England, and there has never been any suggestion of behavior related to terrorism in any of them," said the bishop, who is also a member of the House of Lords.

He believed that there had been only one case in the public domain in recent years, regarding Finsbury Park mosque, where any potential link between a place of worship and terrorist activity had been suggested.

"Even in that case, the problem was resolved by the management committee within the present law," the bishop said.

He said that the Church of England would respond "robustly" to the consultations and ask "why places of worship are being singled out when other buildings have been more significantly linked with the activity of terrorists?"
"Public access to Church of England churches has for long been guaranteed by legislation, giving all members of the public the right to enter during times of public worship," the bishop said.

"To legislate for restrictions on this right would raise significant issues of freedom of worship," he warned.

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