Justin Welby King Charles freedom of religion faith leaders
Freedom of Religion

King pledges to defend freedom of religion

The media headlines and chatter are wrong. Even the Church Times got it wrong. King Charles III has not pledged “to protect all faiths“. He did not say “I will protect all faiths“. He is not defending a “universal faith“. Nor does he intend to “bring new approach to ‘Defender of the Faith’“.

Addressing religious leaders during a reception at Buckingham Palace, the King pledged quite specifically to protect the space for faith. To be clear, he did not pledge “to protect the multiple faiths of a diverse Britain”, as the Telegraph reports (also calling him the “new head” of the Church of England, which he is not, since the Head is Jesus, and the Monarch hasn’t been Head of the Church of England since 1558). In pledging to defend “the space for faith itself, and its practice”, he committed himself simply to defending freedom of religion.

There is no shift here to being ‘Defender of Faith’ or ‘Defender of faiths’, as is being reported: the King couldn’t have be clearer in affirming his Christian beliefs, with “love at their very heart”, and how that love (of neighbour) demands respect for the diversity of religions, cultures, traditions and beliefs.

“I have always thought of Britain as a ‘community of communities’,” he said, which, of course, it is. But his own foundation of faith is unequivocal:

I am a committed Anglican Christian, and at my Coronation I will take an oath relating to the Settlement of the Church of England. At my Accession, I have already solemnly given – as has every Sovereign over the last 300 years – an Oath which pledges to maintain and preserve the Protestant Faith in Scotland.

So the Coronation Oath will not be amended, as many were hoping and expecting. By reiterating his Accession Oath to “maintain and preserve the Settlement of the true Protestant Religion as established by the Laws made in Scotland”, he has confirmed that he will swear the same Coronation Oath as his late mother, and that will be to “maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law”, which is a faith built on freedom of conscience, as he reminded those gathered:

By my most profound convictions, therefore – as well as by my position as Sovereign – I hold myself bound to respect those who follow other spiritual paths, as well as those who seek to live their lives in accordance with secular ideals. The beliefs that flourish in, and contribute to, our richly diverse society differ. They, and our society, can only thrive through a clear collective commitment to those vital principles of freedom of conscience, generosity of spirit and care for others which are, to me, the essence of our nationhood.

So, for the time being, the secularist-humanists have lost, as their tweets bleat and letters to the Times gripe:

National SEcular Society freedom of religion

The National Secular Society has a poor grasp of religion (which one might expect) and history (which is surprising). When they say the Head of State should be “free to practise whatever religion or none, as they please”, they mean to practise privately (that is, freedom of worship), out of the public space, which is the very freedom which King Charles III has pledged to defend. The last thing the National Secular Society wants is a Roman Catholic monarch who takes their faith seriously, lest they refuse Royal Assent to (for example) abortion bills or legislation which facilitates ‘assisted dying’. They might consider the wording of the Bill of Rights 1688:

And whereas it hath beene found by Experience that it is inconsistent with the Safety and Welfaire of this Protestant Kingdome to be governed by a Popish Prince or by any King or Queene marrying a papist the said Lords Spirituall and Temporall and Commons doe further pray that it may be enacted That all and every person and persons that is are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome or shall professe the Popish Religion or shall marry a papist shall be excluded and be for ever uncapeable to inherit possesse or enjoy the Crowne and Government of this Realme.

While such discrimination practised against Roman Catholics may be outdated – their loyalty to the Crown long having supplanted any whiff of treason against the State (cf Regnans in Excelsis) – the words are a reminder of threats to both the security of the nation and its religion, and how this may lead to incitements to rebellion and civil unrest. King Charles III has learned by experience that the Protestant Reformed Religion is the optimal expression of faith by which “the space for faith itself, and its practice” is best defended: the Established Church of England is a canopy of religious liberty, or an aegis of defence against religious intolerance and those extremist secularist beliefs which seek to purge religion from the public space altogether.

To reform the Bill of Rights 1688 and the Act of Settlement 1700 would set in train an inevitable momentum towards disestablishment; and disestablishing the Church of England would automatically remove the rationale for the religious provisions binding succession to the Crown. Indeed, disestablish the Church of England, and the Crown would lose its principal raison d’être, and the State lose a bulwark for the freedom of religion.

God save the King.