The Christian Institute joins secularists to oppose Government crackdown on free speech
The Christian Institute
Tuesday 27 October 2015
For immediate release
The Christian Institute has joined forces with the National Secular Society in a new campaign which seeks to halt the Government’s plans to crack down on free speech, through Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs).
The Defend Free Speech campaign group is backed by former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis MP, Caroline Lucas MP, former Chief Constable Lord Dear – who will spearhead the campaign in the House of Lords – and homosexual rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
Peter Tatchell, Simon Calvert, David Davis MP and Keith Porteous Wood at the Defend Free Speech launch event in Parliament. For high-res image: bit.ly/1MgEags
The official Parliamentary launch of the Defend Free Speech campaign took place last night.
Defend Free Speech warns that the Government’s proposals to introduce new legislation aimed at tackling extremism will criminalise many legitimate campaigners and campaign groups, by unfairly labeling them ‘extreme’.
The group cautions that the sweeping new powers will have a chilling effect on free speech, because the Government has repeatedly failed to set out a definition of what will be considered extreme and has said that the legislation will allow it to clamp down on people even if they have not broken the law.
Simon Calvert, spokesman for The Christian Institute and Campaign Director of Defend Free Speech, commented: “Defend Free Speech believe innocent people will fall foul of this unnecessary and dangerous piece of legislation. It will criminalise those who hold unpopular, unfashionable or challenging views.
“This could include pro- and anti-religious groups, trade unionists and environmental campaigners. Indeed we have already seen police urging teachers to report on parents who go to anti-fracking protests.”
“We are deeply concerned with the Government’s plans. The complete absence of safeguards and any clear definition of what is deemed to be extreme will have a chilling effect on free speech and campaigners.
“We might be Britain’s most unlikely campaign group, but we are united in our belief that free speech is a vital civil liberty and must be protected.
“This legislation is badly conceived and will be bad for society.”
The group highlights that earlier this year, the Prime Minister David Cameron introduced the proposals with the chilling words: “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.” He then went on to promise that the Government “will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach”.
The Chancellor George Osborne wrote to a constituent to say that the legislation would go “beyond terrorism” and that it sought to “eliminate extremism in all its forms”.
He went on, saying it would apply to “harmful activities of extremist individuals who spread hate but do not break laws”. The letter fails to define what harmful activities are or even what the definition of extremism is.
The campaign warns EDOs could prevent individuals from going to certain places, mixing with people or using mobile phone or the internet, or worse.
Crucially, the group says the Government will use the lower civil law test of “the balance of probabilities” rather than the stronger criminal test of “beyond reasonable doubt” and that even the mere risk of causing “distress” could be enough to trigger the new powers.
To highlight their concerns the campaign has published a number of examples on its website of people and groups it believes would be affected by EDOs and says the Government needs to urgently engage with campaigners, parliamentarians and pressure groups who will end up on the wrong side of the law if EDOs are approved without safeguards.
Notes to Editors:
The Christian Institute is a non-denominational national charity which since 1991 has been working on issues including religious liberty, marriage and the family, and Christian education.
Defend Free Speech is supported by: The Christian Institute, the National Secular Society, Big Brother Watch, English PEN, the Manifesto Club and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
For more information please visit: www.defendfreespeech.org.uk or contact The Christian Institute’s Simon Calvert on 07802 796512