Controlling faith leaders

Dear Mr Duddridge,

Firstly, I wanted to say how sorry I was to hear you have been unwell and hope and believe you are on the road to recovery.

Secondly (and the main reason for writing) I wanted to write to you about a subject that particularly concerns me and as a minister of the gospel one that may affect me personally. While I am happy to take my chance, as it were, if the worst was to happen, it bothers me that Christian ministers may have their “wings clipped” because the government feels it needs to take certain measures to curb religious extremism and people will miss out as they may not benefit from their words of wisdom. The collateral damage as a result of such measures could be significant.

Many will admire John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrims Progress, but what many will not realize is that he wrote this while in prison (for 12 years) as a result of not obeying the law that required him to apply for a licence before he preached. Our history is littered with examples of preachers and others who said things that upset that government of the day, and paying a heavy price, even though they were merely following their conscience and obeying God.

I am basing the remainder of this letter on something I received today from the Christian Institute, suggesting I write to you (my local MP) regarding concerns on this matter. As this articulates many of my own concerns, I respectfully submit my own version of these for your consideration.

It has been revealed that the Government is planning to create a national watchlist of approved religious leaders. Pastors, rabbis, imams etc. will be subject to government training/security checks and would have to enrol on a “national register of faith leaders” in order to work with the public sector.

A church minister taking a school assembly, leading a university CU mission or serving as a hospital chaplain would have to be vetted first for their compliance with the ‘British values’ agenda. No doubt this would include equality training if ministers were not sufficiently politically correct.

These deeply troubling (in my view) plans are contained in the Government’s new counter-extremism strategy, which has been leaked to the media (The Sunday Telegraph, 13 September).

While supporting the Government’s efforts to counter terrorism and the ideologies which support it, creating a secret database of religious leaders is over-the-top and in conflict with our British way of life.

It risks adversely affecting Christians more than other groups, as has been suggested, the authorities find it easy to clamp down on evangelicals in order to appear even-handed. A Government ‘British values’ monitor even said last week that voicing criticism of homosexuality “might be breaking the law”. Her statement is plainly incorrect, but it shows how traditional Christian beliefs could be treated.

Christians are law-abiding people (more than most other groups I would suggest) who support our democracy and make a huge contribution to local communities. We should not be the target of repressive government policies which could amount to a secular inquisition. A state watchlist of religious leaders is more characteristic of a Communist regime than our British heritage of liberty.

This proposal represents an attack on religious freedom. Not since the notorious Test and Corporation Acts, and the other intolerant laws of the Restoration era, has the state sought to control Christian believers in such a way.

  1. I urge the Government to drop its plans for a faith leaders register in its counter-extremism strategy.
  2. I do not believe the plans can be justified and that they are over the top.
  3. What evidence the Government has for Christian ministers supporting extremist activity?
  4. Any such register would have to include senior humanist or atheist figures if it were to be fair.
  5. Would pastors who disagree with same-sex marriage be deregistered and barred from visiting schools, hospitals etc?
  6. The proposal is contrary to the British way of life and our tradition of religious liberty.
  7. What is the Government is planning to do with the information it gathers on clergy?

Yours Sincerely

John Barber


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