Thursday, 29 January 2015

Loss of freedom of speech and freedom of religion at universities and elsewhere

The government is consulting on guidelines for local authorities, colleges and universities regarding strategies for preventing people being drawn into ideologies that lead to terrorism. We well know that they are particularly concerned about Islamic ideologies that lead people into terrorism, but might also include rascist or animal-rights groups as well.

We can all agree that we do need to do things to prevent people be drawn into terrorism.

But there is a massive problem. The guidelines define "extremism" and "radicalisation" as any ideology (violent or non-violent) that disagrees with the government's definition of fundamental British values, and, the "protected characteristics" defined in the Equality Act 2010. Well that means the Catholic Church, which does not agree with all these definitions, would fall foul of the "prevent strategy".

We have already seen how these ideas justified by the need to deal with terrorism, are applied to require OFSTED to interfere with Christian Schools teaching children the Christian faith in a Christian way.

These guidelines specifically require universities to vet religious societies that invite outside speakers to speak on the university property and also to seek strategies to interfere if they use other facilities. While in one sentence they rightly say that universities' freedom of speech enables intelligent debate to occur that can present rational reasons against dangerous ideologies, they go on to say that the debates need to be prevented in order to protect students! Surely we are confident we can rationally argue against such ideologies? And that such arguing will help prevent such ideologies taking hold?

The guidelines also require local authorities to monitor the content of out of school activities where children may be taught these "extremist" ideologies (as defined previously) and if necessary take action. Is the Catholic Church going to be allowed to catechise? Do they really think the teaching of the Catholic Church, because it does not agree with the government's definitions of British values etc, leads people to consider terrorism?

This is very dangerous indeed. We are rapidly getting to the stage where anyone who disagrees with the government defined values and definitions of what it is to be human, will be silenced and regarded as dangerous. Are we not drawing dangerously close to those ideological governments of the 20th century who perpetrated such horrors as the holocaust?

Please pray for our government. Please write to your MP. Please add your voice to the consultation.

If you are concerned please email the consultation before Friday 30th January by 12noon.

The government's consultation document is here.

Example paragraphs:

5. Terrorist groups often draw on extremist ideology, developed by extremist organisations; some people who join terrorist groups have previously been members of extremist organisations and have been radicalised by them. The government has defined extremism in the Prevent strategy as: “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces”.

6. The Prevent strategy was explicitly changed in 2011 to deal with all forms of terrorism and target not just violent extremism but also non-violent extremism, which can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and can popularise views which terrorists exploit. It also made clear that preventing people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism requires challenge to extremist ideas where they are used to legitimise terrorism and are shared by terrorist groups. And the strategy also means intervening to stop people moving from extremist (albeit legal) groups into terrorist-related activity.

Out-of-school settings supporting children
44. Many children attend a range of out-of-school settings including after school clubs and groups, supplementary schools, and tuition centres to support home education. These settings are not regulated under education law. Local authorities should take steps to understand the range of activity and settings in their areas and ensure that children attending such settings are properly safeguarded (which should include whether there are any risks related to Prevent). In assessing the risks associated with such settings, local authorities should have regard to the whether the settings subscribe to voluntary accreditation schemes and any other evidence about the extent to which the providers are taking steps to safeguard the children in their care. Where safeguarding concerns arise, local authorities should actively consider how to make use of the full range of powers available to them to reduce the risks to children, including planning and health and safety powers.

89. We define fundamental British values as “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs”, and we expect institutions to encourage students to respect other people with particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010 (including with that being used for schools).

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)