The Christian community has slammed the UK government’s proposals to give its education watchdog Ofsted supervisory power over out-of-school activities relating to churches.
The proposals, outlined in the 15-page consultation document, Out-of-school education settings: call for evidence, have been designed specifically to ensure that children are being taught ‘British values’ and not being indoctrinated into terrorism.
The proposals are part of the government’s anti-extremist crackdown, rightly alarmed by what goes on in under-the-radar Madrassas (Islamic Schools) in the UK.
However, the proposed catch-all legislation would encompass church youth work, Christian camps, confirmation and baptismal classes. If the young person spends six or more hours a week at such activities, the churches will be required to become registered.
Should the government proceed, Ofsted would have authority to inspect such groups. A Christian youth group where attendees are told ‘the only way to heaven is through Jesus’ could be accused of promoting intolerance.
If a complaint is inspected and upheld, then an individual — in a church context, and quite often a volunteer — could be banned from continuing to help out.
As Prime Minister David Cameron warned in 2015, ‘If an institution is teaching children intensively, whatever its religion, we will make it register; and, if it is teaching intolerance, we will shut you down’.
In its submission to the consultation, which closed on 11 January, charity CARE acknowledged the difficulty facing the UK government, because of its need to ‘respond to violent Islamic extremism and the radicalisation of citizens’.
However, Nola Leach, CARE’s chief executive and head of policy, said, ‘These proposals are a major concern. No attempt has been made to define “intolerance” or what British values are.
‘Given the hostility of Ofsted to Christian and Jewish schools in the last year, it is hard to imagine them taking kindly to a church teaching that Jesus is the only way to God’.
She added that the government was in danger of developing a response to extremism that, through its extraordinary intrusiveness, was, ironically, in danger of threatening British values.
Christ’s crown rights
Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, warned: ‘Allowing state regulation of religious beliefs is an unprecedented attack on religious freedom’.
In a letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Mr Hart said, ‘There is a serious risk that the universal approach suggested in the consultation will capture vast numbers of moderate and mainstream religious activities.
‘The idea of having an Ofsted inspector sitting in on your church youth group or Sunday school to see if you are an extremist is highly offensive. It would represent an unprecedented attack on freedom of religion in our country’.
Dr David Landrum, advocacy director for the Evangelical Alliance, said, ‘These proposals are of deep concern. Whether intentional or not, this strategy could be interpreted as the wholesale nationalisation of youth work and the indirect state regulation of private religious practice’.
Churches should bring this matter in urgent prayer to the Lord. What will be the consequences, if such proposals are implemented, on churches determined, whatever the cost, to uphold the ‘crown rights of King Jesus’?