In the fight against extremism, there is a danger that ‘we get mixed up between religious conservatism and terrorism’, the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police has warned.
Chris Sims said that there needs to be a “very strong gap” between the two issues.
This week, The Christian Institute’s Director Colin Hart and the Executive Director of the National Secular Society (NSS), Keith Porteous Wood, highlighted the dangers of introducing overly broad extremism legislation using vague definitions.
Chief Constable Sims told the BBC: “I think there is a danger in tackling extremism that we get mixed up between religious conservatism and violent extremism-terrorism.
“And to me it is very clear there needs to be a very strong gap between those two issues.”
He said it would be “utterly wrong” to “just label everything as extremism”, because the police need the support of the “great majority of the population who want normal lives”.
… it would be utterly wrong I think to just label everything as ‘extremism’…Chief ConstableChris Sims
In a rare joint statement this week, The Christian Institute and the NSS warned that the “writing may be on the wall” for free speech if Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs) are introduced next year.
They warned that the plans could inadvertently turn millions of ordinary citizens into potential ‘extremists’ virtually overnight.
The statement reads: “The vital importance of free speech is an issue on which both our organisations have always agreed.
“We have previously been able to see off an attempt to make it illegal to be ‘annoying’ in public. We have prevented prosecutions for mere ‘insults’ by helping to secure changes to Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
“EDOs are as bad as anything we have seen in the past – probably worse. It is another attempt by a Government to clamp down on free speech in the guise of combating extremism.
“If they are brought in, the writing may be on the wall for free speech in this country.”
Defend Free Speech
The campaign group Defend Free Speech was launched in October to oppose the Government’s plans for EDOs.
The group is supported by The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Big Brother Watch, Index on Censorship and Green MP Caroline Lucas.
The website defendfreespeech.org.uk gives up-to-date information about the campaign, and helps people to contact their MP about the proposals.