When the Prevent strategy was launched in 2011, and further updated in March 2015, it raised a concern that the concept of extremism was so poorly defined that it could lead to over-reaction from school and college managers anxious not to fall foul of the legislation. The strategy’s vagueness also left open the possibility of opportunist use by anyone wanting to limit religious activity, or even close down legitimate faith groups.
Despite the concerns, that is exactly what has happened. A college Christian Union has recently been stopped from meeting on college premises under the Prevent strategy. And while the Prime Minister might call it ‘ridiculous’ in response to a question from Fiona Bruce MP, he can’t legitimately feign surprise when he was repeatedly warned about this very possibility.
Although the specific reasons for this case (along with two other possible cases) are not known, defining Christianity as extremist has been part of a general trend emerging in the press this week. It began with a scathing article in The Independent vilifying Christian fundamentalist schools that use the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. The article subtly muddled criticism of ACE pedagogy with its theology to create an impression of endemic extremism in every corner of these schools.
In the same vein, the paper carried an article about unregistered Jewish yeshivas in Hackney, claiming secrecy, conspiracy and cover-up about abuse, indoctrination and missing children. It seemed to rely heavily on ‘campaigners and whistleblowers’ for its evidence, but it amounted to an attack on a form of Orthodox Jewish education which has existed peacefully in this country for hundreds of years. It seems that some sections of our society cannot understand why most Orthodox Jewish parents aspire to their sons becoming rabbis rather than doctors or lawyers. And yes, the word ‘extreme’ appears in the article.
Then Andrew Copson wrote a piece, also in The Independent, which demonstrates the liberal secular agenda very clearly. He states there are many forms of extremism and they don’t have to be violent to be damaging, as Christian schools apparently remind us. His argument is that the Christian faith is a form of extremism which should be eradicated.
The subtext is clearly that teaching children about the Christian faith somehow equates to burning women alive in metal cages for refusing to become sex slaves, or beheading in front of their parents children who refuse to deny their faith. It’s all extremism motivated by religious belief.
Copson offers the new BHA website Faith Schoolers Anonymous as evidence of the extremist damage done to thousands of faith schools pupils, although to date there are only 5 blogs on the site, most of which are culled from old media articles.
On the basis that extremism is very broadly defined by the government as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values’ including equality legislation, it’s easy to see how Prevent can be used against anyone who believes in God’s design for marriage and God as the creator of the universe – a belief which Nicky Morgan is herself on record describing people who believe in creation as extremists.
Announcing the launch of the FSA website, Jonny Scaramanga wrote that he hoped the site ‘will be supported by those who see benefits in faith schooling’ as well as people wanting to whistleblow, so here’s a suggestion. Anyone who attended, or still attends, a faith school which has played a positive and productive role in their education should write a blog for the site, building up a picture of the work that faith schools and Christian teachers actually do.
As you teach this week, be encouraged by the thoughts of Paul writing to Titus: ‘Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us’ (Titus 2:7-8 ESV).