Christians warned: Beware Govt using EU debate as ‘a good time to bury bad laws’
The Christian Institute
Wednesday, 2 March 2016
For immediate release
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute has warned Christians not to let the Government use the country’s focus on the EU referendum to smuggle through unwanted and draconian laws that could interfere with church youth work and label Christians as ‘extremists’.
Mr Hart expressed concern that whilst the media is focused upon the build up to the referendum on 23 June, the Government may try to speed through laws that undermine religious freedom.
He singled out Westminster proposals to give Ofsted the power to carry out ‘British Values’ inspections on English Sunday schools and plans for Extremism Disruption Orders, or EDOs.
Mr Hart said: “The upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU is on many people’s minds right now. Clearly this is a profoundly important issue for the future of our country and it is right that as many people participate as possible.
“But Christians must not stop holding the Westminster Government to account over its proposals for Ofsted ‘British values’ inspections of church youth work, and Extremism Disruption Orders.
“Together these represent an attack on religious freedom and freedom of speech that we have not seen in this country since the days of John Bunyan, more than 300 years ago.
“I am very concerned that Government Departments could try to slip through highly contentious legislation which harms Christian freedoms while the media focus so heavily on the EU referendum. We will be on our guard but Christians across the nation also need to be vigilant and ready to speak out to prevent this happening.”
Ofsted is to be given legal power to assess whether teaching provided by out-of-school settings complies with ‘British values’.
The Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy said that out-of-school institutions teaching children would have to register so that they can be inspected.
Under the plans, any place which provides instruction to under 19-year-olds for more than 6 hours in any week would be covered.
Responding to the proposals Mr 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 highly offensive. It would represent an unprecedented attack on freedom of religion in our country.”
Many churches will be caught because children can attend multiple events in one week. In addition to Sunday school, a particular child could also attend a baptism or confirmation class, choir practice and youth group. These will be added together (‘aggregated’) to give the total time a child spends under instruction by the church. One-off events such as holiday Bible clubs would also be counted.
A child may exceed 6 hours’ attendance every week, or just for some weeks of the year. Registration is triggered in both cases. This results in all activities, including the Sunday school, being subject to potential inspection.
The Prime Minister referred particularly to madrassas when he announced the new approach in October 2015, but said it will apply to an institution “whatever its religion” and added, “if you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down”.
“Undesirable teaching” which is incompatible with British values will be prohibited. Sanctions would include banning people from working with children and closing premises in order to address “the harm caused by extremism”, including “emotional harm”.
The Government says Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs) are aimed at “harmful activities of extremist individuals who spread hate but do not break laws”.
The Home Office has said it intends to use EDOs to go “beyond terrorism” to “eliminate extremism in all its forms”.
The orders will be issued by a High Court where it is persuaded that someone is “participating in activities that spread, incite, promote or justify hatred against a person (or group of persons) on the grounds of that person’s (or group of persons’) disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and/or transgender identity”.
It has been reported that sanctions imposed would include a ban on broadcasting and a requirement for the police to vet anything posted on the internet or on social media. Anyone receiving an EDO would be banned from working with children for life.
Mr Hart said: “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.”
Notes for editors:
- The Christian Institute is a registered charity which seeks to be a Christian influence in a secular world.
- For more information on EDOs see defendfreespeech.org.uk