A Tory MP criticised by the press for stating that Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs) would be used to stop teachers, including those in Christian schools, from teaching that gay marriage is wrong, has stood by his comments.
The Daily Telegraph quoted the MP as saying EDOs ‘would apply in situations where a teacher was specifically teaching that gay marriage is wrong’. The Christian Institute reports that Sherwood MP Mark Spencer later sought to clarify his remarks in a statement on his website, but simply restated his position.
Spencer said, ‘I actually said I support any teachers sharing their own opinion on gay marriage in the classroom’, adding: ‘I was in fact supporting freedom of opinion and free speech!’
However, he then went on to say, ‘What I said was that teachers should not teach that gay marriage is wrong as if that is a fact, when in reality there are a number of different views on it’.
Under current legislation, church schools, or any school with a religious ethos, can continue to teach their beliefs about marriage in line with their legal foundation. EDOs, originally intended to curb radicalisation by hate preachers, have been widely criticised for raising the prospect of people falling foul of the law for merely holding unpopular, traditional or challenging views.
Simon Calvert, deputy director of the Christian Institute, said, ‘I am genuinely shocked that we have an MP supporting the idea of teachers being branded extremists for teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman. This is exactly the kind of thing we’ve been warning about.
‘The government says we’ve got nothing to worry about from their new extremism laws, but here is one of its own MPs writing to a constituent saying EDOs would stop teachers teaching mainstream Christian beliefs’.
He added: ‘Ten years ago the Conservatives opposed Tony Blair’s unpopular law against “inciting religious hatred”, saying it jeopardised free speech. Yet here they are seeking to bring in an even worse law’.
Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, an organisation which supports same-sex marriage, 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 I had feared.
‘To suggest that EDOs 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.
‘The spreading of hatred is far too vague a concept to be the basis of legal sanctions, and would be worryingly open to misuse, particularly by ideological opponents’.