The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society have become unlikely bedfellows in their fight against the government’s proposed Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs). The “writing could be on the wall” for freedom of speech in the UK if EDOs are introduced next year as planned, the two groups have warned.
Extremism Disruption Orders have been conceived by this government as a means to go “beyond terrorism” and “eliminate extremism in all its forms,” in the words of Chancellor George Osborne. By disrupting the lawful activities of all those the government deems “extremist,” it hopes to crack down on such ideas before they develop into terrorism.
But the proposals have been slammed for being too vague, allowing the government to penalise any form of speech outside of the establishment narrative, even if it is not expressly illegal. Examples could include teaching Christian religious doctrine, environmental activism, or disseminating trade union manifestos.
Chillingly, in May the Prime Minster David Cameron told the National Security Council: “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.”
The Christian Institute, a conservative Christian organisation, and the National Secular Society have both been vocal in their opposition to the orders and their defence of free speech. Now they have joined forces, as founder members of Defend Free Speech, a campaign set up to oppose the introduction of EDOs.
“The vital importance of free speech is an issue on which both our organisations have always agreed,” they have said in a joint statement.
“EDOs 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.”
Referring to David Cameron’s speech to the National Security Council back in May, Institute Director Colin Hart and the CEO of NSS, Keith Porteous Wood said:
“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.”
Christians are increasingly feeling the heat from the government’s anti-radicalisation agenda. An edict for schools to teach ‘British values’, issued after the Trojan Horse plot by radical Islamists to take over Birmingham schools came to light, has instead been used to ensure that Christian and Jewish faith schools promote gay rights and multiculturalism.
One Christian school has even been shut down by the government after it was deemed to be failing to promote British Values. The children branded ‘bigots’ by schools inspectorate Ofsted for not being able to give a comprehensive, politically correct response to the question ‘What is a Muslim?’.
Mr 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.”
But it’s not just Christians who have been treated in this way. Last year, during the European Election campaign, a candidate was arrested after he quoted Winston Churchill in a public speech. He was detained on suspicion of racial harassment after quoting a passage about Islam from a book by the wartime Prime Minister, while standing on the steps of Winchester Guildhall.
Mr Porteous Wood has raised concerns about what EDOs could spell for groups or individuals which oppose government policies. Questioning why people making legal use of their right to free speech should be silenced, he 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.”