The tradition of liberal tolerance, fostered in Britain, was one of the greatest gifts this country gave to the world. That inclusive tradition of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, however, always leaves itself open to abuse by people willing to use liberalism's flaws — not least its tolerance of intolerance — to end liberalism.
The Church of England, in its time, has often been far from liberal. In the nineteenth century, it ended the careers and livelihoods of liberal theologians as adamantly as did the Church of Rome. But in the twentieth century, the story changed. Partly spurred by the loss of confidence caused by diminishing church attendance, by the late twentieth century the Church of England had dropped its reputation as "the Conservative party at prayer," and became something more like "the Liberal party at prayer." No accommodation seemed too extreme. No public expression of doubt seemed too disconcerting. For some years now, the Church of England has been led by its members — not thanks to, but in spite of, the embarrassing public doubts of its leadership.
And here is the liberal dilemma expressed in just one story this week. The former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries — a kindly and learned man — used a debate in the House of Lords to suggest that the coronation of the next monarch in Britain should perhaps include some verses from the Quran.