Proposed legislation leaked to the media outlines how the United Kingdom government plans to oversee religious leaders and their messages.
“If the reports are accurate, what the government is proposing turns the clock back on religious freedom more than 300 years,” said Ciaran Kelly, a spokesman for the Christian Institute.
“Not since the days of the notorious Test and Corporation Acts have we seen such a concerted attempt by a British government to restrict religious practice,” Kelly said in an institute report Tuesday. “We don’t want to go back to those darker days of religious intolerance.”
“Imams, priests, rabbis and other religious figures will have to enroll in a ‘national register of faith leaders’ and be subject to government-specified training and security checks in the Home Office’s latest action on extremism,” he reported.
“The highly controversial proposal appears in a leaked draft of the government’s new counter-extremism strategy, seen by The Telegraph, which goes substantially further than previous versions of the document.”
He explained the government will demand “all faiths to maintain a national register of faith leaders,” which will be subject to “the minimum level of training checks.”
“Registration will be compulsory for all faith leaders who wish to work with the public sector, including universities, the document says. In practice, most faith leaders have some dealings with the public sector and the requirement will cover the great majority,” he reported.
Kelly explained in a statement from the institute, “They mean that Christian leaders invited to speak to a university Christian Union would be required to go on a government approved training scheme before being allowed to speak to students.
“This is a truly sinister proposal more in keeping with China or North Korea than a democracy built on the freedoms of Magna Carta,” he said. “We would ask the government to think again and drop these dangerous plans immediately.”
The plan reportedly defines extremism, the apparent target, as the “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect of tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”
“This sounds unworkable and reads like too strong state intervention,” said Rabbi Neil Janes of the West London Synagogue, according to the institute.
The U.K. government already has been criticized for its “Extremism Disruption Orders,” which measure behavior it assesses to undermine “British values.”
The Telegraph report said the plan would be opposed by the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board.
And a spokesman for the Catholic church said it had not been consulted on the proposals.
Other senior Catholic sources said any plan for state supervision of priests would be “firmly resisted.”
The Telegraph said the primary target appears to be Islamic extremism. The paper cited the “Trojan Horse” scandal in Rotherham in which Muslim leaders were trying to take over control of local schools.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was quoted saying: “For far too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens that as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. The government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.”
The problem, however, is that the broad term “British values” allows the government to condemn and act against Christian schools that do not teach homosexuality, which falls under the broad category of freedom under “British values.”
Christian Today reported Catholic priest Fr. Jeffrey Steel said on Twitter: “Exactly what China did and does. Don’t submit!”
Christian writer and blogger Barrie Lawrence tweeted: “Faith leaders’ in the UK will have to register? I thought such predictions were alarmist – it’s starting to happen,” according to the report.”
The Telegraph reported Colin Green, Christian author and expert on apologetics, noted government plans to put church leaders’ names on a watchlist.
“No this isn’t a novel by George Orwell.”
In the U.S., the Obama administration has described the First Amendment religious rights as “freedom of worship” instead of the constitutionally correct “freedom of religion,” effectively limiting the scope to activity inside places of worship.
WND also reported a First Amendment expert warned that simply uttering the term “pro-life” in a church these days could bring trouble from the Internal Revenue Service.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation, an atheist group, demanded the IRS investigate sermons focusing on certain politically charged “code words,” and, through a settlement, the IRS appeared to agree.
The non-profit Becket Fund is raising questions about the practice.
Then there was the case in Houston in which city officials issued subpoenas for copies of the sermons of several pastors who opposed a transgender-rights ordinance adopted by the city.