News from Europe

Christians could be branded “extremists” by the UK government

According to the Christian charity group Care the new description was "over-broad" and would threaten groups that make "countercultural statements" on issues "blacklisted by officials who have a political agenda".

Even though the depiction is aimed at far-right and extremist groups, opponents fear that it will have “a chilling effect” on free speech. There is a risk that Christians who are pro-life, gender-critical or have traditionalist beliefs about marriage might fall victim to the new definition. 

The UK government defines extremism as “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to: negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights”. 

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said the definition was “not fit for purpose”, and more Christians would be reported to Prevent – the government’s counter-terrorism scheme that aims to stop individuals from becoming terrorists: “Christians who are pro-life could be seen as being opposed to an assumed ‘fundamental right’ to abortion and thus to be ‘intolerant’ and so extremist. Christians who are opposed to same-sex ‘marriage’ could also be seen as wishing to ‘negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others’ and to be ‘intolerant.'” 

The CEO of Care, Ross Hendry, states: “Extremism is a real threat to our society. The values of militant Islamists and far-right groups are completely contrary to our democratic system and the Christian worldview. It is absolutely right that the spreading of lies and racial and religious hatred is confronted. At the same time, the government’s new extremism definition must be closely scrutinised. Policies of this kind are notoriously fraught. There is always a danger that in trying to catch genuinely harmful behaviour, wider civil liberties are disproportionately undermined. Whilst the new definition will not have statutory force, the government will punish groups and publish a blacklist for all to see. There is a risk that campaigning individuals within government could unfairly seek to have certain groups proscribed for holding ‘the wrong beliefs’. The government’s intentions are good, but its approach is problematic. There are good mechanisms in place to deal with dangerous groups and individuals. The police need to apply existing laws effectively, and consistently. We’d urge the government to focus on this key issue.”



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