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Queen's speech to unveil new 'counter-extremism' plans

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The Prime Minister is set to unveil new legislation to tackle extremism in the upcoming Queen’s speech.

According to The Times, new measures to ban organisations, gag individuals and close down premises used to "promote hatred" are to be included in an extremism bill.

The Queen is expected to announce the legislation on 18 May, when she reads a government-prepared speech outlining its plans for the year ahead.
 

Vague definition

The long-expected announcement follows October’s publication of the government's 'counter-extremism strategy', which focuses on "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values".

An eight month struggle to find a "legally robust" definition of extremism is behind the delay in bringing the proposals forward, the Guardian has revealed.

Vague and open-ended definitions were among a number of criticisms Christian Concern expressed on the day of the 'counter-extremism strategy’s' publication.

Describing the strategy as severely flawed, Andrea Williams said: "The prime minister and the home secretary trumpet the importance of defending 'British values' but without either a clear definition of what these are or a compelling account of where they come from."

She went on to say: "In its current form, this strategy represents a major challenge to the freedom of Christians and many others."
 

'Not going to be easy'

If the government’s definition of extremism and ‘British values’ remain unclear, they are unlikely to survive legal challenges in the courts.

A Home Office source told The Times: "Getting agreement about the thresholds for what constitutes extremism and what needs to be protected as free speech is not going to be easy or straightforward."

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "We are not going to speculate about the content of the Queen’s Speech in advance."
 

'British values'

Under current government plans, schools inspected by Ofsted are assessed on how well they are promoting 'British values', which, according to one of the government's definitions, include "the mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs".

This could lead to a direct challenge to Christian values with Education Secretary Nicky Morgan suggesting children who express negative attitudes about homosexuality as potential "extremists".

'British values' enforcer, Polly Harrow, has said that voicing any opposition to same-sex 'marriage' could be against the law. Ms Harrow, who works at a college in Huddersfield as Head of Safeguarding and Prevent, made the comments on BBC Radio 4 in September.

She said that believing homosexuality to be wrong "is your business" but "if you speak it out loud you might be breaking the law." Her comments are one example of how the government's counter-terrorism strategy could penalise Christians.
 

Opposition

The government’s counter-extremism plans have been declared a "disaster" by Christian leaders. In October over 50 Christian leaders, including Christian Concern's Andrea Williams and the Prinicipal of Oak Hill College, highlighted some of the dangers of the government’s plans to introduce Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs).

In July, Lord Evans, a former head of the security service MI5, warned that plans to crack down on extremism could be used against street preachers, he said:

"The forthcoming Counter-Extremism Bill aims to crack down on extremism but definitions will be crucial, and implementation of the new powers will be fraught with risk. One can imagine already the powers being used against harmless evangelical street preachers or the like, out of misplaced zeal and a desire to demonstrate that they are not directed against one religion alone."


Related Links: 
PM plans new laws to stop Muslim extremists (Times £) 
Cameron terror strategy runs aground on definition of extremism (Guardian) 
To defeat terrorism, police and spies need better tools (Telegraph)
Government's 'counter-extremism strategy' is flawed 
Homosexuality comments could be a sign of extremism, says Education Secretary  
Government's extremism plans a 'disaster', warn Christian leaders

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