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New UK ‘Extremism’ Definition Could Pose Threat To Christians

by | Wed, Apr 3 2024

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The British Christian Institute is warning that a new definition of extremism in the UK may lead to a clampdown on Christian beliefs. The government is reportedly planning to introduce a definition that will include attempts to “undermine British values”.

The Institute explained that new measures against terrorism or extremism often end up ‘endangering’ — rather than ‘protecting’ — religious freedom. It notes that past attempts to draft a legal definition of extremism have floundered because it risked criminalising politicians, campaigners and those with traditional views.

The political pressure to define extremism follows Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to tackle “acts of violence” against Jews and Muslims. Under the plan, extremists will be banned from accessing venues or public funding. The government’s revised definition of extremism, as announced by Communities Secretary Michael Gove says extremism involves:

The promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to:

1. Negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or

2. Undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or

3. Intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2).

One Christian MP points out that there’s no definition of what constitutes “British values.” She adds that previous attempts to enforce such values in schools saw Biblical views on sexuality and gender ruled to be ‘extreme.’

The Christian Institute warns that widening the current definition would lead to greater censorship that could see those with traditional views excluded from debate and pose “a serious and unnecessary threat to free speech.” Although the new definition will be non-statutory, it will determine which individuals and groups Government and officials will engage with.

To highlight the dangers, the Christian charity is relaunching The Little Book of Non-Violent Extremists which showcases the way that many non-violent political campaigners such as William Wilberforce, whose campaign led to the abolition of slavery, and Rosa Parks, the mother of the civil rights movement in the US, were initially denounced as “fomenting revolution” and “dangerous”. Now both are rightly celebrated.

Simon Calvert, a Deputy Director of the Christian Institute, expounded: “This little booklet makes the big point that some non-violent ‘extremists’ turn out to be heroic people of global significance. These were people willing to be in a minority of one. People who shook up the consensus of the day. How glad we are that they did.”

“Sometimes unpopular ideas are just what a society desperately needs. Ideas put forward by people once thought seditious, dangerous or just plain crazy have greatly blessed our land and others. Democracy needs dissent, and silencing it undermines its very foundations.”

“Previous attempts to widen the definition of extremism have been so broad and expansive that they would have caught many ordinary people going about their daily lives, campaigners, political activists and those holding traditional beliefs.”

Mr. Calvert continued: “There is already a vast arsenal of existing laws that can be used to arrest and prosecute those who spread hatred or promote extremist ideologies. There’s no need for this new definition of extremism.”

Social policy charity The Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) agrees. CEO Ross Hendry cautions that groups making “counter-cultural statements” could be blacklisted by officials who have a political agenda.

Mr. Hendry said: “Extremism is a real threat to our society. The values of militant Islamists and far right groups are completely contrary to our democratic system and the Christian worldview. It is absolutely right that the spreading of lies, and racial and religious hatred is confronted. At the same time, the government’s new extremism definition must be closely scrutinised. Policies of this kind are notoriously fraught. There is always a danger that in trying to catch genuinely harmful behaviour, wider civil liberties are disproportionately undermined.”

“The definition in question is over-broad. It uses the terms ‘hatred’ and ‘intolerance’, which could be interpreted very widely. There is some concern that mainstream Christian groups could be caught because of counter-cultural statements on issues such as abortion, sexuality, and trans ideology. Whilst the new definition will not have statutory force, the government will punish groups and publish a blacklist for all to see. There is a risk that campaigning individuals within government could unfairly seek to have certain groups proscribed for holding ‘the wrong beliefs’.

“The government’s intentions are good, but its approach is problematic. There are good mechanisms in place to deal with dangerous groups and individuals. The police need to apply existing laws effectively, and consistently. We’d urge the government to focus on this key issue,” Mr. Hendry asserted.