Sharia

As I write, I'm leaving Westminster to attend a meeting in Bury to discuss how we can deal with the terrible nuisance of motorbikes racing up Bury Hill.

If any of the motorcyclists happened to be Sikhs, which I am sure they aren't, they would be exempted from the law requiring crash helmets to be worn - they can wear turbans instead.

Similarly, European animal welfare regulations stipulate that all farm animals must be stunned prior to slaughter, unless they are to be killed by religious methods, such as halal.

I support such cultural exemptions.  I think they respect religious customs without harming society and without breaching fundamental human rights.

By contrast, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Sharia Law is "incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy."

Allowing civil disputes to be settled through religious-based arbitration sounds reasonable.  But if fundamental human rights are breached in the process, as they could well be in relation to marital issues where women's rights are suppressed, the law is subverted.

The introduction of any parallel legal system in this country would be wrong, let alone one founded on a religious law whose most extreme manifestation still sees the stoning of women who commit adultery and the execution of young gay men.

The Archbishop of Canterbury rightly condemned such inhumanity.  But he clearly made the most serious mistake in suggesting that the importation of any element of Sharia was "unavoidable".

Perhaps, though, he unwittingly ignited an important debate.  We need to discuss the discredited doctrine of multiculturalism which, in purporting to protect minorities, actually divides communities.

I believe that the equality of citizens before the law is an inviolate principle.  There must always be a place for the exercise of religious conscience in our society, and respect for religious diversity.  But we should not undermine the foundations on which our rights and laws are based.

Michelle Taylor