This article appeared on the Premier Christianity Website
Why the Government’s anti-extremism plans are the biggest threat to church freedom in 100 years
They mean well. They really do. They want to stop British children being radicalised by Islamic extremists and prevent suicide bombers in Birmingham, Glasgow or London. They are embarrassed that there are more British muslims serving with ISIS than there are in the British army. And so the government rightly want to act. But they don’t know how to. They don’t want to appear to be targeting muslims, because that might increase tensions and act as a recruiting aid for the extremists. So with the best will in the world the government is coming up with anti-extremism plans which will target every religion. Their intentions are good, but the road to totalitarianism is paved with good intentions.
The plans drawn up by the Department for Education aim to combat extremism by giving Ofsted inspectors the right to carry out spot-checks on any group for under-19- year-olds that gives six hours of instruction to children per week. Inspectors would have the power to shut down any event which they deem to be out of step with “fundamental British values”. Although these plans don’t affect Scotland, my church runs week-long summer holiday youth camps in Shropshire and we would be forced to register under the scheme. But we are also concerned about our English and Welsh sisters and brothers.
The proposal is a ludicrous combination of political correctness, fear, good intentions and ignorance. The notion that a Free Church youth camp in Oswestry, complete with its trips to Alton Towers, should be regarded as equivalent to an al Qaida madrassa is as irrational as it is absurd.
The consultation document speaks of ‘fundamental British values’, but does not tell us what those are. It is the essence of a totalitarian state that it alone defines what ‘fundamental values’ are. I heard one government minister in an interview mentioning being opposed to Same Sex Marriage as an example of ‘extremism’. You can see the way the wind is blowing.
And of course it goes beyond our youth camps. This legislation will affect many areas of church life. The very thought of Government-registered and policed Sunday schools, youth activity weekends and possibly even church services is ridiculous.
Ironically it is a denial of the very values that the British Government says they are defending.
Now of course there are those who will immediately react with disbelief. ‘Don’t be stupid’ they will argue – ‘you are just scaremongering’. ‘Our British government would never do that’. That naïve faith in the British government practicing as well as preaching British values, is not shared by all members of the government. In todays Telegraph there is a letter from several Tory MP’s warning precisely about this danger. They write that there is a ” prospect of an Ofsted inspector observing meetings and then imposing sanctions for the expression of traditional views on matters such as marriage – views which, until very recently, were considered mainstream in Britain”. “This would be an intolerable but very real possibility given the clear desire of the Department for Education to investigate what it calls ‘prohibitive activities’, such as ‘undesirable teaching… which undermines or is incompatible with fundamental British values. “This could challenge established Christian teaching. Threats to British values originate overwhelmingly from certain strains of Islam.
“It is at least disproportionate, if not absurd, to impose intrusive burdens on all other religious groups under the pretence that attempts at radicalisation could be discovered in any organisation.”
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/12093949/Tory-MPs-warn- that-Sunday-schools-could-be-banned-from-teaching-that-marriage-is-between-a- man-and-a-woman.html? utm_content=buffer951dc&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_cam paign=buffer
The trouble is that this legislation seeking to prevent the Trojan horse of radical Islamic schooling, will itself become a Trojan horse for radical secularists. Already I have read on some of the more militant secularist websites comments such as ‘I assume extremists from other faiths are ok then which is a bit weird considering most faith schools are Christian and the biggest faith influence in UK institutions is still Christian.” So the secularist atheist militants will demand that all religions be treated ‘equally’ as potential terrorist threats and thus they will achieve their dream of seeking to neuter and control the Christian church.
My denomination is known as the Free Church of Scotland (not as some visitors sometimes think because it costs you nothing to get in!) but because we claim to be the Church of Scotland, Free from government control. There is a lesson to be learnt from our history. We were formed at the 1843 Disruption when a third of the Church of Scotland’s ministers left to form the Free Church in protest at the state’s interference in the national church’s internal affairs. Under patronage, landowners could nominate and present ministers to congregations, irrespective of whether those ministers were evangelical or even whether the congregation wanted them. In the early 19th Century we had to fight the attempts by the state to impose patronage, their ministers, on the Church. It appears that in the early 21st Century we now have to fight attempts by the Government to impose their ‘values’ upon the Church. It is a fight for freedom that we gladly take up, not just for ourselves, but for anyone who appreciates the British values of freedom, equality and diversity – values which stem from our Christian heritage.
Solas Centre for Public Christianity Dundee