Norwich churches speak out against EDL march

Leaders of all the main Christian denominations in Norwich have spoken out against a march by the English Defence League in Norwich organized because a city church has been barred by Norwich City Council for anti-Islam material. Church leaders from the Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Baptist churches, Salvation Army, United Reformed Church and the Quakers have united to issue a joint statement against the march.

The statement reads: “The intention of the English Defence League to mount a demonstration in Norwich is entirely unwelcome. Norwich has a long history of welcoming strangers, often in considerable numbers. The integration of so many different groups into the life of this fine city is what gives Norwich such richness in its life today. This is a cause for celebration, and we must not allow this honourable tradition to be broken.”

Leaders signing the statement were: Fr David Bagstaff, Diocesan Administrator, Diocese of East Anglia (Roman Catholic); Major David Jackson, Divisional Commander of the Eastern Region, Salvation Army; The Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich (Church of England); The Revd Richard Lewis, Regional Minister of the Eastern Baptist Association; John Myhill, on behalf of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers); The Very Revd Graham Smith, Dean of Norwich (Church of England); The Revd Graham Thompson, Chair of the East Anglian District of the Methodist Church; Fr James Walsh, Dean of the Cathedral Church of John the Baptist (Roman Catholic) and The Revd Paul Whittle, Moderator of the Eastern Synod of the United Reformed Church.

The English Defence League is planning its first ever march through Norwich on Saturday 10 November and whilst no route is yet planned, EDL organisers have told Norfolk police of their intention.

The EDL say that the march is to show support for Norwich Reformed Church which was banned from its bookstall site on Hay Hill and from using Norwich City Council premises for its main Sunday services after its leader, Rev Alan Clifford, promoted his own leaflets against Islam on the bookstall. The EDL say their march is to protest against the Council’s action and everyone else’s freedom of speech.

In a statement, Rev Clifford denied having any links to the group. He said: “I have no connection with either the EDL or BNP even though they rightly endorse my Christian criticisms of Islam. My objections to Islam are ideological not racial. Indeed, I have more affinity with Asian Christians than English atheists. I am opposed to both ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ political extremism and my stand on the Islamic threat is faith-inspired.”

Network Norwich, 15 October 2012

Update:  See also “‘You’re not welcome’: Church leaders’ message to English Defence League ahead of planned Norwich march”,Norwich Evening News, 16 October 2012