Tuesday 29 December 2015

Government's anti-extremism strategy threatens freedom to oppose same-sex "marriage"

Last month, the Family Education Trust (FET) published an article by Norman Wells, FET's director, which adds to the concern expressed by SPUC during the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.

Three years ago, SPUC said that the government's same-sex "marriage" legislation* threatened the freedom of citizens to say that legalising same-sex "marriage" is wrong (or simply impossible). The Society warned:
"There will be compulsory teaching of same-sex marriage, dismissal for teachers with a conscientious objection to teaching about same-sex marriage, and no opt-out for faith schools."
Norman Wells's article on the British government's counter-extremism strategy raises the question: Must we respect a person or a person’s opinion? Is there any difference between saying I respect Christians and I respect Christian beliefs?

Well yes there is and Norman Wells points out the dangers of failing to see the difference. And that failure is to be seen, in a fundamental way, in the recently published government counter-extremism strategy defined by the government as follows:
“Extremism is the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist.” [Emphasis added]
The point/distinction to be made is this. I may respect a communist as a person, but loathe detest and abominate communist beliefs and practices. Why should I respect beliefs with which I disagree?

In his important discussion on this issue, Wells begins with this perceptive remark by Professor John Haldane at the Family Education Trust conference last June:
"The word toleration has been reinterpreted. Toleration is the primary virtue in the context of disagreement or difference. It allows us to live with people with whom we disagree. But in recent years, toleration has shifted to become approbation and approbation has shifted to become celebration. Intolerance is now defined as refusing to celebrate something with which you disagree. It is a corruption of language."
Does this mean that when a teacher in a school, asked about same sex marriage, responds with a defence of traditional natural marriage that that teacher is undermining the value of ‘equality’ and therefore would be regarded as indulging in extremist behaviour?

Normal Wells goes on to discuss all of the anti-democratic and anti-free speech implications of current government strategy which is dangerous because of a failure to make a simple but logical distinction. And Wells concludes with advice to the government about the need to rethink how it expresses it counter-extremism legislation and “to proceed with the utmost caution".

* SPUC opposed the redefinition of marriage in law to include same-sex couples, because it would undermine the true nature of marriage and thus the pro-life benefits of marriage. Marriage offers the most protective environment for both unborn and born children.

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