Church leader: terror law should focus on Islam

Rev David Robertson has said that new laws to vet university speakers are 'Orwellian' and should focus on the threat from Islamic extremism. Picture: Contributed
Rev David Robertson has said that new laws to vet university speakers are 'Orwellian' and should focus on the threat from Islamic extremism. Picture: Contributed
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A SCOTTISH church leader has attacked the UK government over “Orwellian” plans to vet visiting university speakers.

Although its aim is to combat terrorism, the Rev David Robertson described the proposals as a “dangerous and repressive attack on freedom of speech and civil liberties” - and declared that he would not comply.

All visiting speakers to universities will be required to submit their talks along with any visual materials like Powerpoints 14 days in advance so they can be vetted by officials under the propsals.

A Westminster consultation on guidance relating to The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, more commonly known as Prevent Duty, closes tomorrow.

Rev Robertson, who becomes Free Church of Scotland Moderator in May, said: “Never mind the staff time and paper trails this will involve, these plans are a dangerous and repressive attack on freedom of speech and civil liberties.

“To require all visiting speakers to submit their talks a fortnight in advance so they can be vetted against political correctness is Big Brother Orwellian stuff.

“The UK government has decided to impose these measures because of the threat from Islamic extremists, so why not focus on that threat?

“The reason is that that would be perceived to be discriminatory, so they have decided to lump everyone together and suppress us all.”

He continued: “Although it is designed to catch terrorist activity, we all know that it won’t stop there.

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“The guidelines are so broad that they could easily be abused by secular or religious people so that events and/or speakers are either censored or banned because officials don’t happen to like them or simply disagree with they are intending to say.

“This would open the door to the curtailment of freedom of speech and the facilitation of intolerance.”

Rev Robertson, who is a part-time Dundee University chaplain, is a popular speaker at campuses across the UK. He warned that the new laws could hamper Christian student groups in particular.

The Dundee minister said: “Putting this nonsense into practice, a sermon for a Christian union carol service at Christmas must be scrutinised under the new guidelines with any offending parts removed.

“When the state starts getting involved in what is and is not acceptable for Christian worship a very big line in the sand has been crossed and it is simply not on.

“Christian teachings have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. This is an erosion too far. Not only for Christians but for many other groups as well, including moderate Muslims.”

The Scottish church leader concluded: “The Free Church of Scotland’s historic founding principle is that it is free from government interference.

“I swore a vow to ‘uphold the spirituality and freedom of the Church of Christ, with Christ as her head and His Word as her only standard’. I intend to keep that vow.

“There is no chance I will be submitting any sermon or talk to any government or university official for prior approval.”

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