Govt backtracks on ‘sinister’ faith leaders watchlist

A Home Office minister has signalled that the Government now has “no plans” to introduce a ‘watchlist’ for faith leaders, in a move welcomed by The Christian Institute.

Responding to letters from Christian Institute supporters, Mike Penning MP, along with other Conservative MPs, said that the Government is not planning to introduce such a measure.

A leaked draft of the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, indicated that ministers, rabbis and imams could be monitored and forced to undergo Government approved training.

No plans

Responding to concerns over the “national register of faith leaders”, Home Office minister Mike Penning MP, said: “The Government will publish its Counter-Extremism strategy in the near future” but went on to say that there are, “no plans for a national register of faith leaders”.

Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, welcomed the move but warned that the proposal was just one element of much broader concerns over the Government’s strategy: “Creating a secret database of religious leaders would be completely over the top. It is shocking that civil servants would even consider the idea.

“However, although this particular proposal seems to have been dropped, other aspects of the counter-extremism agenda, particularly the plans for Extremism Disruption Orders, remain a cause for deep concern.

Attack on freedom

Under the leaked strategy, pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders would have been subjected to Government training and security checks and would have had to enrol in a “national register of faith leaders”.

The proposal would have affected all Christian ministers and other religious leaders who wish to work with the public sector.

The Christian Institute had previously warned that it represented an attack on freedom of religion not seen since the 17th century.

Truly sinister

Spokesman for The Institute, Ciarán Kelly, said: “Not since the days of the notorious Test and Corporation Acts have we seen such a concerted attempt by a British Government to restrict religious practice.

“This is a truly sinister proposal more in keeping with China or North Korea than a democracy built on the freedoms of Magna Carta.

A campaign supported by The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society has been launched to oppose the Government’s plans for Extremism Disruption Orders.

The website gives up-to-date information about the campaign, and helps people to contact their MP about the proposals.

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