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.
It’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