Extremism still has no clear legal definition as far as the UK government is concerned, the Home Secretary has admitted. In a letter submitted to the joint committee on human rights, Amber Rudd said the government still had not agreed on what ‘extremism’ meant, as far as the upcoming counter-extremism Bill was concerned.
Her letter to Harriet Harman MP, chairman of the joint committee, said: ‘This policy area raises complex issues relating to freedom of speech and the importance of having a clear legal definition of extremism. These are issues that my department continues to consider and, as you know, we have committed to a full consultation on any new legislation before it is introduced’.
In a statement from Christian Institute, a spokesman for the Defend Free Speech campaign said: ‘It’s a relief the Home Secretary recognises there are concerns about the impact on free speech. From the beginning, we’ve been saying the government’s approach to countering extremism has been totally lacking in any kind of clarity.
‘The case for abandoning the ill-conceived attempt to outlaw non-violent extremism is gaining ground. But we have to remain vigilant’.
The Christian Institute (CI) has warned of four serious threats to our Christian freedoms in the UK from the government’s extremism and school proposals.
It said these are Ofsted’s proposed intrusive powers into out-of-school youth work, ‘British values’ inspections for schools, the equality oath and Extreme Disruption Orders.
The CI commented that the out-of-school settings plan was probably the ‘most alarming’ of these. It pointed out that Schools Minister Lord Nash has revealed there were 18,000 responses to the government consultation on this proposal.
‘We believe most of them came from Christians’, the CI said. ‘They have certainly given the government pause for thought. Lord Nash told the House of Lords, on 11 January, the government is “determined to regulate in this area”, but needs to “tread carefully because many of these organisations are small, open for only a few hours a week and staffed by volunteers”.’
Although Brexit seems to be ‘significantly slowing down the rest of the government’s legislation’, including its plans for out-of-school settings, the CI warns that ‘Ofsted is continuing to menace Christian and Jewish schools with its “British values” inspections’.
Then there is the proposed equality oath for public office holders. ‘It is the equality agenda which has marginalised Christians in recent years — Ashers Baking Company, for example. The idea of forcing councillors, school governors and others to swear an oath to promote “British values” could be used to purge Christians from public life’.
The proposal came recently from ‘integration tsar’ Dame Louise Casey, and the government has promised to set out its response shortly.