Christian charities CARE, Christian Concern, Evangelical Alliance, Lawyers' Christian Fellowship and The Christian Institute have today issued a joint statement and call to action over government proposals to register and inspect church youth work.
The statement reads:
"Requiring churches in England to
register before they are legally allowed to help children learn the Christian values our nation was built on is an unjustified restriction of religious liberty. Whether the threshold is six hours in any week or higher, the principle of outlawing 'unregistered churches' from teaching children the gospel is an unacceptable overreach of the state.
"The government says Ofsted will only inspect churches for 'British values' compliance if there is a complaint. However, the scope for vexatious complaints is considerable, especially in the current climate of aggressive secularism and religious illiteracy. The experience of some Christian schools is that inspectors themselves can be ignorant of or hostile to Christian beliefs and practices.
"We do not believe Ofsted should become the state regulator of religion. For an inspector to scrutinise aSchool class, Bible study, youth meeting or church weekend away would be highly intrusive. The prospect of inspectors questioning volunteer leaders and children (without their parents) is an unwarranted incursion into private religion and family life.
"Christians are peace-loving, law-abiding citizens who respect authority and love their neighbours. They are a major source of volunteering, and represent the best of 'British values'. To require such people to submit to registration and inspection to ensure they are not encouraging terrorism is profoundly misconceived.
"Whilst Christians wholeheartedly support reasonable measures to prevent terrorism and violent extremism, these proposals will lead to a loss of civil liberties and create a large bureaucracy that will divert resources away from restraining extremists who reject UK law. Such individuals will simply ignore or effortlessly circumvent the registration requirements. We urge the government to drop these proposals and develop a targeted, intelligence-led approach that will genuinely inhibit the activities of violent extremists."
It concludes with the following urgent call to action:
"We call on Christians, churches and affected organisations in England to contact their MPs and urge them to oppose these plans."
CARE Chief Executive Nola Leach said:
"The government's plans to empower Ofsted to inspectSchools and other church activities is simply not the best way to tackle the radicalisation of young people. It is a wholly unwarranted undermining of religious freedom. We support tackling extremism, but not in this sweeping, overly broad manner."
Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, added:
"Christians teaching biblical truthor any other day of the week should not be looked upon as if they are somehow doing something so awful that the State needs to be constantly looking over their shoulder. Christians are not terrorists and should not be treated as if they are."
The Evangelical Alliance's Head of Public Policy, Simon McCrossan, said:
"These proposals amount to the wholesale nationalisation of youth work and the state regulation of private religious practice, more akin to 'Big Brother' than 'Big Society'. If implemented, there is a real risk churches will feel forced to step back from the valuable services they currently provide to young people across society."
Mark Jones, Chairman of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, said:
"The Lawyers' Christian Fellowship condemns violence and terrorism. We have grave concerns about the proposals, which could be counter-productive to the stated aims and may arguably place the UK in breach of its international human rights obligations."
And Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, added:
"Christians are justifiably alarmed at the prospect of Ofsted conducting 'British values' inspections of church youth work. The freedom to proclaim the Gospel, and indeed our wider civil liberties, must be protected, not undermined in the name of 'counter-extremism'."