A ‘Last Christmas’ for free speech?
The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society sound warning for future of free speech
Concerns come ahead of expected introduction of Extremism Disruption Orders in 2016
The Christian Institute and The National Secular Society
Monday 21 December 2015
For immediate release
In a rare joint statement, The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society (NSS) have said the “writing could be on the wall” for free speech if Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs) are introduced next year.
Institute Director Colin Hart and the CEO of NSS, Keith Porteous Wood, highlighted the dangers of introducing overly broad legislation using vague definitions which could inadvertently turn millions of ordinary citizens into potential ‘extremists’ virtually overnight.
The statement reads: “The vital importance of free speech is an issue on which both our organisations have always agreed.
“We have previously been able to see off an attempt to make it illegal to be ‘annoying’ in public. We have prevented prosecutions for mere ‘insults’ by helping to secure changes to Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
“Extremism Disruption Orders are as bad as anything we have seen in the past – probably worse. It is another attempt by a Government to clamp down on free speech in the guise of combating extremism.
“If they are brought in, the writing may be on the wall for free speech in this country.”
Colin Hart added: “Every time ministers talk about extremism they seem to want to go much wider than tackling terrorists and their sympathisers.
“Law-abiding citizens, such as Christians, could be caught by the vague definitions of extremism that get bandied about when ministers are trying to talk tough.
“Broad-brush counter-extremism policies catch ordinary citizens and are actually a waste of resources. They do not make us safer. They make us less safe by distracting the authorities from focusing on genuine threats.”
Keith Porteous-Wood commented: “Political activists, environmental campaigners, as well as groups like ours, could all be branded ‘extremists’ under the Government’s massively broad proposals.
“It needs to realise that being socially conservative or socially liberal is not extremism. Advancing a philosophy or challenging a religious opinion is not extremism. Wanting major societal change is not extremism. Promoting unfashionable views or defending minorities is not extremism.
“There are already extensive anti-extremist powers available to the authorities, but they are not being fully used. The law already protects against incitement, harassment and violence.
“EDOs are simply not necessary. The Government is yet to identify a single unlawful activity which requires EDOs in order to be addressed.”
In a reference to David Cameron’s speech to the National Security Council back in May, Mr Hart and Mr Porteous Wood concluded by saying: “The Government should not expect us to sit back being ‘passively tolerant’ of a proposal to label ordinary British citizens as extremists.
“We believe in obeying the law. In turn, we expect the State to leave us alone. It is high time the Government turned the page on its failing EDO proposals.”
Notes for editors:
- The Christian Institute is a registered charity which seeks to be a Christian influence in a secular world.
- The National Secular Society is a non-party-political organisation which campaigns for a secular democracy with a separation of religion and state.
- Both organisations are founder members of the campaign Defend Free Speech created to oppose the introduction of Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs). For more information see defendfreespeech.co.uk
- EDOs were first announced by Home Secretary Theresa May on 30 September 2014.
- The Home Office has said it intends to use EDOs to go “beyond terrorism” to “eliminate extremism in all its forms”.
- EDOs would be triggered by “harmful activities of extremist individuals who spread hate but do not break laws”.
- Before a court can impose restrictions upon an individual, it would need to be persuaded that they were “spreading, inciting, promoting or justifying hatred on the grounds of disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and/or transgender identity”.
- Banning orders will also be used to “tackle those venues and facilitators that help extremists to continue their activities”.
- Mr Cameron told the National Security Council in May, “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.” www.gov.uk/government/news/counter-extremism-bill-national-security-council-meeting