30 July 2015, The Tablet

If I reject David Cameron’s values, am I an extremist?

by Laura Keynes

David Cameron has unveiled his strategy for tackling extremism. Whilst targeted at the Muslim community, the broad nature of the strategy – and its emphasis on enforcing “British values” – effectively means that counter-extremism measures could be used against individuals or organisations who “spread, incite, promote or justify hatred” against others on all sorts of grounds, including sexual orientation.

Part of Cameron’s five-year plan for challenging extremist ideology is to “incentivise” faith schools to become more integrated, and “urge” universities to do more to tackle extremist speakers.

Cameron extremism PAIt’s not hard to see how, in a culture that doesn’t understand sin and natural law, this could be used against anyone who says – in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church – that gay men and women are called to chastity, for example.

Catholic speakers invited to student societies have already seen debates on topics such as same-sex marriage and abortion closed down on spurious grounds by student unions, and sex-ed teachers in faith schools are being urged to teach that gay relationships are the same as heterosexual ones.

The language around Mr Cameron’s counter-extremism strategy makes me uneasy. At what point does “incentive” and “urge” become “coerce”? How far will the state be able to control what’s being taught in faith schools? Who gets to define “British values” and tell Catholics what is and is not “British” about the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

Obviously there’s a need to address extremism, but it’s 400 years since Britain’s Catholic community produced a terrorist, so it seems a little unfair to tar all fatih groups with one brush. Are we to go back to the days when Catholics were told that national identity trumped religious identity? It is possible to hold two identities in balance, and denying whole communities the freedom to express their religious identity can only lead to trouble. Mr Cameron might do well to remember that it was actually the state’s punitive measures against freedom of religion that prompted the Gunpowder Plotters’ desperate plan.

Another pillar of Mr Cameron’s strategy is to allow parents to have their children’s passports cancelled if they fear they’re at risk of extremism. Presumably all parents of kids signing up for World Youth Day in Poland next year ought to confiscate their children’s passports now: Britain’s young Catholics might come back from Krakow fired up with evangelical zeal, ready to radicalise their peers with gospel values. A whole generation of young Brits might be swayed by Pope Francis’ words about the beauty of the Catholic vision for the family.

Ok, I’m being facetious, but Catholic teaching on the family doesn’t include trendy theories about same-sex parenting and transgenderism, and if the state is to compel faith schools to teach this stuff, then Catholic kids will naturally question it. Will they be reported to the authorities for espousing extremist views?

Only time will tell how this five-year counter-extremism strategy will play out for Britain’s Catholic schools and students. Since May there are even fewer Catholic MPs in parliament to protect freedom of conscience for Catholics, and Tim Farron’s election as leader of the Lib Dems was overshadowed by a debate over whether a person can even be a Christian and lead a political party. Should Britain’s Catholic community be worried?

Above: Speaking at a secondary school in Birmingham, David Cameron unveils his strategy for combating extremism. Photo: PA

What do you think?


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User comments (4)

Comment by: Child of God
Posted: 01/08/2015 09:50:47

You have written an interesting piece which effectively puts Catholic schools on a par with Muslim schools. I'm afraid I can't agree. Speaking as a parent whose children attended a well known Catholic state school I was appalled at the level of abuse directed at boys suspected to be gay. I don't know what would have happened to anyone coming put as transgender.

It was understood that the Headmaster and several teachers were gay as was a chaplain but no one was ever punished for bulling allegedly gay boys. A lot of hypocrisy and unhappiness resulted which was not to the schools credit.I am a practising Catholic but along with believing that the earth goes round the sun,I believe some humans are gay by nature and are valued by God just the same as any other Child.

Comment by: nesbyth
Posted: 31/07/2015 22:41:59

I think Laura Keynes makes some interesting points here.
This "British Values" label is rather vague. I have no idea what they are as they keep changing and have never been spelled out as far as I'm aware. They presumably mirror whatever the current politically correct thought is at any given time, which makes no exceptions for personal belief from any religion. And incidently, the Abrahamic Faiths all believe that certain sexual practices are sinful. I don't see how Mr Cameron will eradicate that although he'll try and the Christians will be the soft option for "thought control" which seems to be behind British Values.
Of course we must be charitable to those we don't necessarily agree with (and vice-versa) but the truth doesn't just change because British Values do.

Comment by: Petra
Posted: 31/07/2015 18:03:03

Laura Keynes' article displays a defensiveness about being Catholic in Britain which I thought the community had left behind. We might do well to remember the punitive measures employed by Catholics such as Henry VIII and Mary I, not to speak of Catholic rulers (and Protestant) elsewhere in. No faith tradition can look back on those days with any pride. Transgenderism, at least, is not 'a trendy theory', but a factual, complex reality which a small number of people have to come to terms with, often at considerable emotional and physical cost. And in faith schools that are part of the state system - C of E, Catholic or other - the schools have a responsibility to its funders - us taxpayers - to comply with legislation on the curriculum and on the ethical values to be encouraged in schools. 'Values' is a complex and constantly debated term, but since British (and Irish) law now reflects the equality in law of gay people, perhaps that is an indicator of one 'British value'? 'A culture that doesn't understand sin and natural law': the culture reflected by the Catholic Church's actions and attitudes on the sexual abuse of children and adults by priests (I don't excuse similar behaviour by other churches) certainly does not understand sin. Christianity has much to learn from 'society'.

Comment by: hitchadmirer
Posted: 31/07/2015 11:50:25

Did you really say 'in 400 years Britain has had no Catholic terrorist'? I would suggest that violence from sectarianism in Ireland and Scotland might warrant such a description. We could argue over the term, of course - and in broad brush terms you have statistics on your side. I just wanted to make the point that claiming the moral high ground from such a naive position is a little unfortunate - as you make points with which I (despite being a lapsed Anglo-Catholic)
agree. The trouble is, as always, that you hold to views about the world that are faith based. There is sadly no middle ground. I see no evidence that homosexuality is a 'sin' -but you have to adhere to theology. I understand that. Changes to 'conscience' issues evolve and I suspect we don't need to legislate. Your children and their children will accept sexual mores over time - and, in the same way that dogma changes, this will be a non-issue that isn't used to define your faith. In the meantime you can have your beliefs - and 'prejudices' - as long as you practice them at home. Religious edicts have no place in the public sphere - and I would still want to know if my prime minister was, for example, a creationist or believed in End-times....they influence thinking processes, decision making and illustrate a woeful disfepect for evidence.

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