Friday, October 26, 2007

British Prime Minister Announces Plans To Create Constitution and Bill of Rights

In an important speech today at the University of Westminster, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the initiation of a national consultation to draw up a Bill of Rights and create a written constitution for the United Kingdom. Currently Britain's constitution is a collection of basic laws and unwritten traditions. A UK government press release sets out the full text of the Prime Minister's remarks. Part of his lengthy speech focused on the history of religious tolerance in Britain. Here are excerpts:

First, I trace the historical roots of liberty in Britain to a struggle for tolerance, by which I mean also a gradual acceptance of pluralism - a notion of political liberty that would allow those of different denominations and beliefs to coexist peacefully together.... This did not happen all at once, or without setbacks and struggle. The flames of religious intolerance burned across this land too. But never as strongly as in continental Europe....

[W]e should neither glorify nor distort what has gone before - and the struggles, both the ups and downs, of empire are not long behind us - to uphold a particular view of where we are now or what we can become. So we need to recognise, for example, that it took until 1829 for Catholic emancipation, even later for legislation ending discrimination against the Jewish community..... But the single most powerful thread that runs though our history is a succession of chapters in the defence of liberty and toleration. We gave refuge to Huguenots fleeing persecution in the 1600s. By the eighteenth century, London was arguably already the world's most diverse city - a situation which we can remain proud of in Britain to this day.