The Home Secretary’s anti-extremist measures look like a “gagging order”, The Christian Institute’s Director has warned.
Colin Hart criticised the Extremist Disruption Orders, which are set to be part of the next Conservative manifesto.
He said: “It’s not hard to see how they could be misused against Christians who support traditional marriage or otherwise breach the tenets of the Equality Act. Where will it leave a minister who preaches that salvation is through Christ alone?
Freedom of speech
“Alarmingly these proposals are even worse than Labour’s notorious Religious Hatred Bill or Section 5 of the Public Order Act that were so detrimental to freedom of speech.
“What’s more, Theresa May’s plans are unnecessary – there are already extensive anti-extremist powers available to the authorities.
“Yes we need to combat the Islamist threat, but this is not the way to do it.
Threat of prison
“In effect the plans set up State gagging orders which are maintained by the threat of prison.
“You can’t protect democracy by undermining its very foundations.
“The Home Secretary’s proposals fly in the face of her very public espousal of ‘British values’. Freedom of expression is an essential freedom for any democratic society.”
Tory MP Dominic Raab expressed similar concerns in an article for The Daily Telegraph: “Those engaged in passionate debates – such as Christians objecting to gay marriage – could find themselves slapped down.”
He also criticised the Home Secretary’s plans to ban “extremists” from using the internet or social media.
“As well as being contrary to our tradition of free speech, it’s difficult to see how this could be enforced in practice, given the scale of online debate and the security of social media sites.
“Large numbers of officers should not be dragged into policing what should be the realm of democratic debate”, Raab commented.
May said she wants action to be taken against people who seek to “spread, incite, promote or justify hatred” against others on a number of grounds, including religion, sexual orientation and transsexualism.
Earlier this year the Government sought to introduce an anti-social behaviour Bill. It could have caught a wide range of activities, including Christian street preaching, carol singing or peaceful protests.
However, following a campaign supported by The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society, the Government backed down on introducing the law.
Last year the Government also gave in to pressure from free speech campaigners when it agreed to reform Section 5 of the Public Order Act.