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Another threat to freedom of speech

November 2014

New proposals by the Home Secretary could destroy civil and religious liberties in the UK, the Christian Institute has warned.

Theresa May MP has put forward proposals for Extremist Disruption Orders, which, if passed into law, could undermine any outdoor preaching, curtail political activity and gag the performing arts.

In the light of reports of Islamist extremist preaching, which has incited some individuals to leave the UK to take up arms with the Islamic State, Ms May’s plans are effectively gagging orders, maintained by the threat of jail time.

Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, said, ‘As someone has said, this destroys democracy in the name of protecting democracy. If the idea of the government trying to control free speech sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Alarmingly so. Remember the annoyance orders, Section 5, and the Religious Hatred Bill?’

At the time, Christians and secular pro-democracy groups stood against then prime minister Tony Blair’s Religious Hatred Bill, which gave police the ability to apply for court orders against people using religion to state politically incorrect views.

The plans were shelved. However, the Extremist Disruption Orders will give the police the same abilities to ‘restrict harmful activities’.

Authorities will have to show, on the balance of probabilities, that an individual or group is undertaking activity that will spread hatred against someone or a group of people, on the grounds of that person’s, or group of persons’, disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and/or transgender identity.

Mr Hart said, ‘This looks like a gagging order, triggered by anything deemed to breach the tenets of the Equality Act. It is not hard to see how this could be misused against Christians. The mildest opposition to same-sex marriage, for example, is routinely labelled as “hatred”.’

There have already been open-air preachers arrested from confrontations with people deliberately entrapping them with questions over homosexuality. These particular powers could, if passed, see many more Christians end up on the wrong side of the law.

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