The British government may try to use the EU referendum to sneak through controversial plans to inspect churches and label traditional Christians “extremists”, Christians have been warned.
The Christian Institute said it was concerned the government may use the referendum as a distraction to speed through “highly contentious legislation which harms Christian freedoms”.
Colin Hart, the group’s director, pointed to proposals to allow school inspection group Ofsted to inspect non-school settings including Sunday Schools and even choirs, and plans to create Extremist Disruption Orders (EDOs).
He warned that Christians with traditional views could be branded extremists for opposing the gay rights agenda or the trans movement.
“Christians must not stop holding the Westminster Government to account over its proposals,” Mr Hart said.
“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.”
Christian Institute spokesman Simon Calvert told Christian Today it “would not be unknown for the government to do something controversial while people’s attention is elsewhere”.
“We are just encouraging Christians to keep on raising these important issues of religious liberties,” he added.
EDOs will be issued by a High Court judge when they are 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”.
Anyone sanctioned by such an order could lose their right to work with children, and even be banned from social media.
Last summer Conservative MP Mark Spencer caused considerable controversy when he appeared to suggest that EDOs could be used to punish teachers who tell students that gay marriage is wrong.
In response to a letter from a constituent, Mr Spencer wrote that EDOs will “guarantee” free speech, saying:
“Let me give you an example, one which lots of constituents have been writing about – talking about gay marriage in schools. The new legislation specifically targets hate speech, so teachers will still be free to express their understanding of the term ‘marriage’, and their moral opposition to its use in some situations without breaking the new laws.
“The EDOs, in this case, would apply to a situation where a teacher was specifically teaching that gay marriage is wrong.”
His comments drew criticism even from the National Secular Society. Executive director Keith Porteous Wood said: “If EDOs really could be used to prevent teachers from talking about same sex marriage, unless they are inciting violence, they are an even greater threat to freedom of expression than feared.
“To suggest that EDO’s guarantee freedom of expression is not just inaccurate, it is the opposite of the truth; they are the largest threat to freedom of expression I have ever seen in Britain.”