By Councillor Richards
This Council expresses concern that Ofsted will be given new powers to inspect church premises to assess whether teaching in an out-of-school setting complies with British values and urges a review of this policy.
I am bringing this motion firstly as a council Member with a conservative political philosophy. I believe in limited government and the right to privacy and freedom of worship.
Secondly, I am bringing this motion as a Christian and lay church leader on behalf of Christians and Christian groups locally who will be affected.
The local church I belong to represents more than 600 people and is one of the most diversified groups within the town with more than 35 languages spoken, people of all ages, colour, socio-economic backgrounds, from former faiths and none.
Why is this proposal concerning?
1. UN-PRECEDENT ATTACK ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN OUR COUNTRY
I would like to ask members to consider history and the impact of state interference into religion in the past.
The proposed plan is a deeply worrying extension of government power into private lives and the voluntary and religious sector.
Never before have government authorities entered UK churches to assess their teaching of the Bible.
Let’s be clear – it is the Bible, which has shaped our freedom, laws, morals, culture and even language.
It is a major step on the road to a fascist or soviet model where government agents sit in on church services. This would be something entirely new and contrary to even the Magna Carta.
Clause 1, which remains on the statute book, says:
“the English Church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired”.
This freedom we shall observe ourselves, and desire to be observed in good faith by our heirs in perpetuity.
Only last year, we proudly celebrated its 800 year anniversary as a council, yet this year some are too embarrassed to uphold it today – ‘in perpetuity…’
2. THE PROPOSALS ARE CONTRARY TO THE MEANING OF EQUALITY
We must not react to extremism and intolerance with extremist and intolerant measures.
Christianity is the foundation of this nation and its values of freedom and love and respect for all have allowed other religions to be welcomed in this country.
The Church must remain separate from state interference and be allowed to further the core Christian values of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.
What incidents are there of British Christians being radicalized?
In the name of political correctness we have shifted the focus on Equality of opportunity for all to Equality of concern.
It is highly offensive for churches and Christians to be targeted as suspicious and potentially subversive elements in society.
They are at the forefront of the ‘Big Society’ and play a hugely significant role in the voluntary sector. We risk replacing the ‘Big Society’ with the ‘Big Brother’ society.
It is for a sure a challenge in our modern world, but it is not overcome by drawing one group into the challenges of others.
We are frequently told by some that terrorists are not genuine adherents of a faith – so one could presume therefore that this is not really a religious problem at all…
I have been accused of being anti-other faiths, yet some of my closest friends here hold a different faith.
The last motion I brought to help refugees would have helped those of another faith who were suffering.
I have every sympathy with other groups (of faith and none) which may be affected but I do not presume to know whether it is appropriate or how it will impact them in practice.
3. CHURCHES ARE ALREADY REGULATED
Most churches are legally registered as Charities and therefore accountable to the Charity Commission for providing a ‘public benefit.’
They are required to have a safeguarding policy in place for children’s work and to carry out criminal record checks on those involved.
Church run schools are already inspected by Ofsted – there is no problem there with inspections.
Two thirds of MPs have expressed concern with the policy in a poll by ComRes, agreeing that “while the need to tackle extremism is clear, the proposal defines too widely the activities which would be covered by it”.
This rose to 69% among Conservative MPs.
More than half (55%) of MPs also expressed concern that the proposals for checks by Ofsted could threaten legitimate and reasonable activities.
For these reasons I put forward this motion for debate.