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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 20:56 GMT
Howard hails religious diversity
Michael Howard
Politicians must listen to faith groups, says Michael Howard
Religious groups cannot be bundled together as one "multi-faith sector", Tory leader Michael Howard has said.

In a speech to faith groups, Mr Howard said religious diversity depended on freedom for groups to voice their differences.

He stressed his opposition to government plans for a new offence of incitement to religious hatred.

Faith groups were part of a "forgotten majority" and needed a fairer deal for their social work, he argued.

Family debate

Mr Howard was addressing the Faithworks organisation in Kennington, London - something Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy did earlier this month.

As somebody of the Jewish faith with a son was training to be an Anglican priest, Mr Howard joked that he was used to lively debate between different religions.

He suggested some people believed the way different faiths could co-exist was to look for "common denominators".

It is incumbent upon all politicians to acknowledge the legitimacy of our faith communities and listen to and respect this 'forgotten majority'
Michael Howard

"However, any attempt to bundle distinctive faiths together as one homogenised 'multi-faith sector' fails to grasp the reality of the situation," he said.

Free speech had to be defended if there was to be freedom for religions to reflect their differences, he argued.

Mr Howard said the Church of England should remain as the established church, not least because Jewish and Muslim leaders believed it provided an umbrella helping all religions contribute to public life.

Faith schools

He said it was striking that the 2001 Census suggested the vast majority of Britons still stated they had a religious affiliation.

"It is therefore incumbent upon all politicians to acknowledge the legitimacy of our faith communities and listen to and respect this 'forgotten majority'," he said.

He promised to remove "bureaucratic blocks" for their faith groups' community work.

A Tory government would also tackle late payments from government to charities and encourage more faith schools to be set up, he added.




SEE ALSO:
'Churches should be trusted more'
03 Feb 05 |  Politics
School puts emphasis on faiths
02 Feb 05 |  Education


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