The Government’s proposed anti-extremist legislation “attacks free speech and savages our ancient rights”, Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute has said.
Writing for the Conservative Home website, Mr Calvert warned that the Government’s definition of extremism is too broad and risks catching many peaceful dissenters.
This week, campaign group Defend Free Speech, led by The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society, was set up to oppose the Government’s controversial Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs). Mr Calvert discussed the launch on Premier Christian Radio.
Mr Calvert stressed that the narrative from ministers so far demonstrates that their idea of extremism “seems to include many minority, traditional or unpopular views.
“These will likely include many campaign groups, mainstream religious leaders, and outspoken atheists.”
He added: “The Government has decided that to tackle the scourge of extremism it will introduce a catch-all offence, and one which assumes guilt not innocence.”
He cited evidence to show that people who hold minority views would be targeted by the proposed EDOs, including the case of a Conservative MP who told a constituent that “teachers who teach that gay marriage is wrong must be subjected to the full force of the new law, in exactly the same way as violent extremists”.
He also said that, “environmental protestors, such as those in the North West and Sussex who are concerned about fracking, could be labelled extremists”.
“Teachers are already being encouraged to spy on parents and pupils for this type of behaviour”, he added.
Mr Calvert argued that the Government’s approach “smacks of panic” and embraces the so-called ‘Governmental logic’ of “we have a problem, we need to do something, EDOs are something, so let’s do EDOs”.
He listed 15 laws which already enable the Government to tackle extremism, from The Offences Against the Person Act 1861, to The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.
Noting the words of former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, he added, “the current laws constitute ‘a substantial armoury'”.
Mr Calvert concluded that: “Squashing the rights of dissenters, those who want peacefully to hold and express views, even those we might consider odd, old fashioned or challenging, is not the way to preserve our traditions and way of life.”
He said EDOs are “not the solution” to radicalisation.
“That takes focus, engagement, hard work and money, not a piece of legislation that criminalises thought, attacks free speech and savages our ancient rights.”
Defend Free Speech
This week a new campaign supported by The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society has been launched to oppose the Government’s plans for EDOs.
The website defendfreespeech.org.uk gives up-to-date information about the campaign, and helps people to lobby their MP about the proposals.