The Home Office has stated that it will protect people’s right to legitimate religious belief and faith, despite concerns that the Conservatives’ proposed Extremist Disruption Orders (EDOs) could be used against legitimate religious expression.
In a letter from James Brokenshire MP, Immigration and Security Minister, to Tom Brake MP for Carshalton and Wallington, Mr Brokenshire states that: ‘Extremism has no place in our society and will not be tolerated. There is a thread between extremism that promotes intolerance and hatred, and the actions of those who want to impose their values through violence’.
The letter also stated it was not simply targeted at Islam, saying, ‘This is not just Islamic extremism but neo-Nazism and other forms of extremism too’.
The Minister’s response came as Lib Dem MP Mr Brake lobbied the Home Office on behalf of the news editor of Evangelical Times, who last year wrote to him, asking him to question whether the EDOs could and would be used against legitimate religious practices, such as public preaching.
In his two-page letter Mr Brokenshire pledged: ‘Any new powers, whether these particular orders or others, would uphold our country’s long tradition of religious freedom and liberty and be used only to tackle those extremist individuals and extremist groups whose harmful behaviour has no place in British society’.
At the same time, Home Secretary Theresa May has said that, under a future Conservative government, the authorities will be ‘given powers to close down mosques where extremists gather’. Such a government will review how Sharia law is used in England, help prevent radicalism spreading among criminals in prison, and promote greater scrutiny of mosques, especially those which were attended by those young Britons who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State.
Although no official connection has been made between the teaching of some of these mosques and the radicalism of certain individuals, Ms May said the government will enforce its counter-extremism strategy to stamp out Islamic radicalism. It will also promote British values more assertively, by changing visas to ensure visitors follow them, and by reviewing citizenship laws to ensure effectiveness.
The question remains, as posed by the Christian Institute (CI), whether further down the line, certain biblical beliefs, such as holding to a view of heterosexual marriage, could end up on the wrong side of the EDOs.
Indeed, according to Colin Hart, director of the CI, the National Secular Society, The Guardian newspaper and MPs have all spoken out against the proposed EDOs. He warned in 2014 that these rules could end up being misused against Christians.