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Anti-extremism plans "biggest threat to church freedom since 19th century"

Mon 11 Jan 2016
By Antony Bushfield

Fresh concerns have been raised about government proposals that could see church groups face Ofsted inspections.

The Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland has said planned anti extremism measures are the "biggest threat to church freedom since 19th century".

Revd David Robertson has condemned the UK government's proposals which would mean any organisation that cares for children for more than six hours a week would face Ofsted inspection.

Ministers say it's designed to target groups which are radicalising young people, but some church leaders are worried it will mean camps teaching the Bible could be hit with inspections.

Revd Robertson warned it posed as big a risk to religious freedom as patronage did in the 19th century.

This led to the 1843 Disruption when a third of the Church of Scotland's ministers left to form the Free Church in protest at the state's interference in the national church's internal affairs.
He said although the proposed law only affected England it would have an impact on any church taking groups of young people to the country.

"We are concerned that this proposed legislation is an over the top reaction to one particular problem - Islamic extremism," he said.

"Because the UK Government does not want to appear to be picking on one religion they therefore have to target everyone, in order to get at their real target.

"The notion that a Free Church youth camp in Oswestry, complete with its trips to Alton Towers, should be regarded as equivalent to an Al Qaeda Madrassa is as irrational as it is absurd."

The Westminster consultation on the scheme closes on Monday evening.

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