You and Your Church Could Be Labeled “Extremists”

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ExtremistYou, yes you, could be labeled an “extremist” under the government’s latest Counter Extremism Strategy (published in October 2015). And if that happens, you might suffer the following: your social media or website channels could be shut down, you could be investigated by the police or local authority, your employer could stop you working with children and other vulnerable groups, your British citizenship could be revoked or your claims to remain in the country denied, your beliefs could be challenged at your children’s school, your TV and radio broadcasts could be suspended and the list goes on.

True story, no exaggeration.

“How is this possible?” you may ask. Well, it’s possible because the government, in trying to tackle the problem of terrorism has drafted a Counter Extremism Strategy that is far too wide and, therefore, may well cause problems for ordinary people of any faith who happen to hold beliefs which might fall foul of the government’s definition of “extremism”. Before I go any further, I’d like to make it clear that most reasonable people would agree with the government that there is a genuine need to counter terrorism and its causes. But the problem here is with the execution of the attempt at a solution.

One big problem is that the government’s definition of “extremism” is too broad: “Extremism is the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs…” Sounds ok? Look again and ask yourself, “What does ‘fundamental values’ mean?” Answer: it’s unclear because it’s not defined in the strategy. How can it be clear, when the definition itself only specifies some of the things “fundamental values” includes but not all? Who will decide the other items to be added to the list? Who decides what “fundamental values” actually are? And what if your beliefs fall on the wrong side of that decision even though they pose no danger to anyone at all?

You might be thinking to yourself, “Hang on, your concerns are a bit far-fetched! They don’t mean us!” Don’t they? Did you know that it has already been confirmed that if your church’s Sunday School or after school club provides “intensive education” for over 6-8 hours a week, it will be made subject to registration and inspection regulations by Ofsted under the “Out-of-school education settings” agenda. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector confirmed this recently on 15 January 2016. Listen here: Christian Concern. Also, “undesirable teaching…which undermine or is incompatible with fundamental British values” will be prohibited under the regulations. There it is again, that expression “fundamental values”. Simply put, the effect is that some traditional Christian teachings, e.g. on matters of sex and marriage, could be banned from your Sunday School!

So what can you do? Firstly, keep aware and up to date with political developments. Secondly, contact your local MP and speak to them about your concerns. Thirdly, make sure your churches and communities are “plugged in” to active organisations like Christian Concern who are committed to influencing law and policies in the right way.

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