Censorship of Christians

The prospect of Ofsted inspecting church youth work to see if they comply with the vague ‘British Values’ test is alarming, not because Christians do or say anything they can’t defend or truly believe; but because if the Government’s plans go ahead, Ofsted will in effect become the state regulator of religion. This should concern us because Ofsted has notoriously shown hostility to teachers and pupils with socially conservative beliefs over issues such as marriage or other religions.

Nevertheless, the scheme proposed by the Department for Education would regulate any place which instructs under-19’s for six hours or more in any week.  It’s not only Christian youth activities which would be regulated, but many sports groups, music teaching, drama groups, driving schools, first aid courses, and cookery courses, for example, would also be affected.

When this issue first came to public attention, Government ministers said the new rulings would not apply to Sunday Schools, but the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has made it quite clear that they will.  If a child spends, for argument’s sake, two hours at a mid-week, youth group, two hours at a baptism or confirmation class and two hours at Sunday School, this would draw the church within the scope of the scheme.  It’s possible that church services could also be scrutinised by the inspectors.

Some MPs expressed overwhelming opposition to these plans at a parliamentary debate held last Wednesday.  Sir Edward Leigh, who led the debate, described the plans as a ‘mess’.  Some MPs referred to the plans as ‘illiberal’, ‘statist’ and even potentially illegal.  Sir Gareth Howarth, commenting on the plans to include Sunday Schools in the regulations, asserted that Ofsted must not be granted such extensive powers.  He believes Ofsted inspectors must not behave in this high-handed and draconian fashion.

The proposed measures are being put forward as a way to monitor ‘extremist’ teaching.  But instead they will be counter-productive.  The plans will distract from the task of stopping children being radicalised and will create a monumental bureaucracy, diverting valuable resources from the real problem.

Genuine, peace-loving and law-abiding Christians will be targeted because of their biblical beliefs.  The accusations levelled against them could be ‘emotional harm’ and lack of ‘tolerance’.  The sanctions include banning people from working with children and closing premises.

These measures, and others like them, are squeezing the rights of Christians to live according to their Christian world view and to express their views openly.  Indeed, freedom of expression is being suppressed across the board.  On university campuses, censorship of free expression is rapidly increasing.  Over half (55%) of our universities impose serious restrictions on expression, according to a new analysis by Spiked. 

The times are definitely changing.  Britain is fast becoming the kind of place where only state-approved views can be expressed or taught.  It is only in countries like China where state approval is required for church teaching and activity.  It was only in Nazi Germany and similar regimes that the state tightly controlled every element of its existence.  Freedom of thought, belief and practice is priceless.  We mustn’t throw it away through ignorance of the implications of current legislation.  The church has serious decisions to make in this new season.  Do we toe the party line or stay true to our Christian convictions? 

Once again, ‘Christ or Caesar’ is the choice.  In the meantime, we must do what we can to maintain the freedom we have.  Writing to the local MP is one practical step.  For more on this subject, and for guidelines for how to convey concern to MP’s , go to www.christian.org.uk or www.christianconcern.com


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