The Government has faced a fresh attack over plans to give schools’ regulator Ofsted the power to investigate church youth work.
During a debate on Tuesday, two MPs questioned why the Conservatives have not categorically ruled out the proposals after facing a storm of criticism from various groups.
The Christian Institute’s Director Colin Hart has called the Ofsted plans an “unprecedented attack” on religious freedom.
Speaking in the House of Commons, DUP MP Gavin Robinson said the “biggest disappointment” of the Queen’s Speech was the failure to “categorically” rule out the plans.
Introducing such a measure, Robinson added, would “breach the Conservative party’s manifesto commitment to reject any sweeping authoritarian measures that would threaten the hard-won freedoms in this country.
“It would be far too wide and far too shallow, when, in response to extremism, we need a measure that is deep and narrowly focused.”
Absurd and unworkable
Conservative backbencher Sir Gerald Howarth also raised fears about the proposals, saying that “regulating groups such as Sunday schools is clearly absurd.
“It would place a huge administrative burden on such groups, would severely damage volunteering and would be a serious infringement of personal liberty and freedom of association.”
He added that the proposals are “unworkable” and a “danger to our freedoms”.
The Government wants to inspect any out-of-school setting in England which provides instruction to children for more than 6 to 8 hours in any week. This could include church youth work and one-off events such as holiday Bible clubs.
David Cameron referred particularly to madrassas when he announced the new approach, but said it will apply to an institution “whatever its religion” and added “if you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down”.
In a letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan last year, Colin Hart said: “The idea of having an Ofsted inspector sitting in on your church youth group or Sunday school to see if you are an extremist is, I have to say, highly offensive.”