NSS attacks new UK banning orders
Extremism Disruption Orders’ (EDOs) are tough new restrictions planned by the UK Government to curb radicalisation by jihadists.
But the new banning orders could be one of the biggest threats to freedom of expression ever seen in the UK, says the National Secular Society.
Responding to a a suggestion by Mark Spencer, MP for Sherwood in Nottinghamshire, that EDOs should, in some circumstances, be used against Christian teachers who teach children that gay marriage is “wrong”, NSS Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood, above, is quoted in the Telegraph as saying:
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 [as Mark Spencer suggests] 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.
In a letter to a constituent, Spencer insisted that Christian teachers were still “perfectly entitled” to express their views on same-sex marriage – but only “in some situations”.
Christian campaigners said Spencer’s remarks confirmed what they had previously warned: that those who believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman would now be “branded extremists”.
Ministers have signalled that the orders, expected to be a key plank of the Government planned new Counter-Extremism Bill, would be used not only curb the activities of radical Islamist clerics but those who promote other views deemed to go against “British values”.
Ministers have defined British values in the past as including broad notions like democracy, tolerance and the rule of law.
Spencer was writing in response to an email from a constituent who was concerned about claims by the campaign group the Christian Institute that EDOs could be used against those with traditional beliefs. He wrote:
I believe that everybody in society has a right to free speech and to express their views without fear of persecution.
The EDOs will not serve to limit but rather to guarantee it: it is those who seek to stop other people expressing their beliefs who will be targeted.
Let me give you an example, one which lots of constituents have been writing about – talking about gay marriage in schools.
He went on to insist that Christians with traditional views on marriage are “perfectly entitled to express their views” but suggests it could constitute “hate speech” in some contexts.
The new legislation specifically targets hate speech, so teachers will still be free to express their understanding of the term ‘marriage’, and their moral opposition to its use in some situations without breaking the new laws.
The EDOs, in this case, would apply to a situation where a teacher was specifically teaching that gay marriage is wrong.
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.
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.
EDOs will be a gross infringement of free speech and undermine the very British values they claim to protect.