Are Extremism Disruption Orders bringing us in line with the worse of old Soviet oppression? A Barnabus Fund report of 30th June tells of ‘draconian Soviet era restrictions on religious freedom.
‘The new law will require any sharing of the Christian faith – even a casual conversation – to have prior authorisation from the state. This includes something as basic as an emailed invitation for a friend to attend church. Even in a private home, worship and prayer will only be allowed if there are no unbelievers present. Churches will also be held accountable for the activities of their members.’
Whilst these proposed measures (and Christians are urged to pray they will not pass into law) are extreme, it does seem the measure of choice for governments considering religious extremism. Such laws were once the preserve of totalitarian states but this is no longer the case. In the ‘free’ secular west all faiths, and believers of every stamp and persuasion, are lumped together in a ‘curse on all your houses’ attitude. Societies and governments show no inclination to understand the positive contribution of faith communities to the wider world. Ignorance and fear see them reach for the blunt instrument of legislation. The law of unintended consequences will, inevitably, see the innocent and productive majority swept up with the guilty in an attempt to stem the flow of violent extremism we see on our TV screens these days.
Extremism Disruption Orders
The government of the UK is proposing the use of Extremism Disruption Orders to restrict the activities of people considered a threat to our lives and freedoms. George Osborne is on record as saying:
Extremism Disruption Orders will go “beyond terrorism” and “eliminate extremism in all its forms”.
Those words ‘in all its forms’ bring us into the ill-defined and hazy world of what exactly is extremism. Someone might be considered extremist simply because of expressing an opinion and might be accused of “spreading, inciting, promoting or justifying hatred on the grounds of disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and/or transgender identity”.
The proposed legal test for extremism disruption orders will be the civil courts’ ‘balance of probabilities’ and not the more stringent criminal courts’ ‘beyond all reasonable doubt.’ Someone might even be prosecuted because they are thought to be at risk of causing distress. Need we point out that people can, and these days often do, take offence where none is intended? Indeed, the Scripture says as much:
‘God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous sign and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ (1 Cor.1:21-25)
This is not a licence to be offensive but a recognition that, to many, the gospel is an offence because it challenges their own world-view. The wisdom of God is foolishness to man, but if man takes offence at the wisdom of God then he is simply making a choice. All the preacher is doing is placing that choice before him.
Any form of public speaking might be restricted by extremism disruption orders, as well as social media activity, involvement in public office, newsletters, opinion pieces, and more. Even rights of association might be withdrawn from those considered extreme in thought, word, or deed. Such is the hostility to the gospel that street preachers have taken to recording everything they say in case of arrest; and prosecutions are multiplying as people test the law to its limits by seeking offence. This is a troubling development when you consider that the gospel is meant to confront the sinner.
Such a message has always been unpopular but is now becoming illegal.
But it is not only Christians who are concerned about this move into the world of the thought police. Anyone with a cause might find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Whether a political, ideological, or religious cause, all will come under the scrutiny of these proposed new powers. Political commentators, preachers, comedians, satirists, protesters, even someone writing to their local newspaper might fall foul of these orders.
As Christians, we are not taken by surprise by these measures, and we would not be the first or even the worse affected by such draconian measures in our world. But we have a legitimate right, even a responsibility to stand with those across society now expressing concern at these developments.
You can read more at defendspeech.org and find out how you can write to your MP expressing your concerns about extremism disruption orders. Many share those concerns, as you will see from reading the site. We are not alone in our battle to protect our fundamental right of free speech in British law so we encourage you to be informed and make your views known.