‘Widely drawn extremism laws will inhibit free speech’

The Government’s proposed counter-extremism strategy will “inevitably ensnare the wrong people”, an Assistant Editor of The Daily Telegraph has warned.

Philip Johnston questioned how long it would take before opponents of same-sex marriage were “arraigned under the law”.

Over the last few months, the Government has come under fire from a range of groups for its controversial Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs).


Johnston said that Home Secretary Theresa May plans to announce a “legislative crackdown on those who express views that fall foul of a new statutory definition of what constitutes extremist thinking”.

He added: “Early drafts of the Bill suggest that this will be ‘the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’.

“The definition is so wide-ranging that it is hard to imagine that it will not inhibit free speech.”


The columnist accepted that the proposal is “intended to stop radical Islamist preachers influencing a new generation of potential terrorists” but warned that its definition is so broad that it will inevitably ensnare the wrong people.

“How long, for instance, before someone who expresses opposition to same-sex marriage is arraigned under the law? After all, what was until recently an orthodox, mainstream view founded on religious belief is now considered hateful and potentially criminal.”

How long, for instance, before someone who expresses opposition to same-sex marriage is arraigned under the law?

Philip Johnston

He continued: “The Government promises to direct these new powers against terrorist sympathisers, yet we have seen too often in the past how laws introduced for one purpose are used for another.”


He concluded by asking if a “new law criminalising a broad spectrum of ‘extremist’ opinion” warrants a “restriction on free expression of the sort now being proposed?”

Johnston noted the fact that both “Christian and secular organisations”, as well as Muslims, have expressed opposition to the Bill.

Last week a new campaign supported by The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society was 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 contact their MP about the proposals.

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