“Harmless evangelical street preachers” could be subjected to crackdowns from a law aiming to curb extremism, a former head of MI5 has warned.
Sir Jonathan Evans cautioned that “definitions will be crucial” in the upcoming extremism Bill, and noted that its implementation “will be fraught with risk”.
Sir Jonathan, who served as Director General of the security intelligence agency between 2007 and 2013, said he could imagine Christian preachers being targeted “out of misplaced zeal”.
The Christian Institute and others have warned that Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs), which are expected to be laid out in the extremism Bill, could seriously damage free speech.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Sir Jonathan said it was important to counter terrorists’ extremist narrative, but: “In a secular, liberal democracy like ours, waging this sort of war of ideas is extremely difficult and I have yet to come across a programme, here or abroad, that is wholly convincing. More work is needed.
“The forthcoming Counter-Extremism Bill aims to crack down on extremism but definitions will be crucial, and implementation of the new powers will be fraught with risk.
“One can imagine already the powers being used against harmless evangelical street preachers or the like, out of misplaced zeal and a desire to demonstrate that they are not directed against one religion alone.”
In May the Prime Minister announced that the Government wanted to end this country’s “passively tolerant society” where “as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone”.
But a former lawyer and Christian theologian has described the plans as “disaster area” both legally and from a religious perspective.
Revd Dr Mike Ovey commented that the Government is saying, “trust us with your civil liberties”, but “human experience tells us the last thing you ever want to do is trust a government with your civil liberties”.
“There has got be a better way to do it”, he said.