Our Religious Freedom: Barnabas Fund responds to British government’s new Green Paper

4 April 2018

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A new Green Paper , in response to the Casey Review (Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper), has taken on board many of the points made by Barnabas Fund and other organisations. Chief among our concerns, was the threat to freedom that the Casey Review posed. Dame Louise Casey was tasked with setting out how communities could integrate against the threat of Islamist terrorism. However, her review suggested that all faiths and beliefs should be judged as to whether they are “at odds with mainstream society”. This was an attack on liberty at the deepest level.

Barnabas Fund’s Our Religious Freedom campaign was launched partly to respond to the threat implied in Casey’s review. And, we are alarmed by the possibility that, despite Casey’s well-meaning attempt to confront “radicalisation” and “terrorism”, the government may end up replacing one form of intolerance with another.

Significant points in the Green Paper

  • The emphasis is on integration NOT assimilation, and the difference between the two is vital. Everyone does NOT have to believe the same things. But, emphasis is given to accepting “fundamental British values”. In line with other recent government reports, British values are listed as: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs.
  • The Green Paper aims to start a national debate.
  • Every government department will select a number of current priority policies and services to review during this Green Paper consultation period, with the aim of assessing whether they exacerbate segregation or could be developed to actively drive integration.
  • The general tenor of the Green Paper is broadly sympathetic to freedom of religion.
  • The Green Paper explicitly rejects the proposal by a recent government review that government should regulate sharia courts. It states that to do so would give them an inappropriate sense of legitimacy. Instead, it proposes to require legally that all religious marriages be either preceded or accompanied by a civil marriage (p58).
  • A new hate crime action plan will be produced later this year. In 2016, Barnabas Fund raised concerns that an action plan, then newly released, almost completely ignored hate crime against Christians including widespread violence against Christian converts from Islam.
  • The review applies to England only, since community strategy is an area of policy devolved to the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh governments.

Threat to religious freedom and Sunday Schools

The Green Paper revives the 2015 proposal for government regulation and inspection of all out-of-school education settings, including Sunday schools. Recent debate has criticised this apparent “power grab” by Ofsted, which runs counter to the otherwise generally supportive intention of the Green Paper toward freedom of religion.

This proposal is a direct threat to Sunday Schools. The Green Paper suggests that the power to regulate can be done without a change in the law. “Existing legal powers” can be used to intervene whenever it is believed that Sunday schools fall out of line with ill-defined British values. This could be done by imposing a “voluntary” code of conduct to bring all Sunday schools into line on safeguarding and “welfare”. But, it is difficult to see how Ofsted could reach a judgement on whether this code of conduct is being followed without creating an official register of all “out-of-school education provision” and a system of inspection.

This is a powerful reminder of why we need a new law to guard against such “power grabs” into important areas of personal and religious liberty.

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