Heather Bellamy spoke with Ciaran Kelly, the Head of Communications at the Christian Institute about the Equality Oath, Extremism Disruption Orders and Ofsted's intention to inspect churches.

Ciaran Kelly
Ciaran Kelly

The Christian Institute has issued a fresh warning over plans for an 'Equality Oath', as it appears the Government is pressing forward on the issue. Heather Bellamy spoke with Ciaran Kelly, the Head of Communications at the Christian Institute.

Heather: What is an Equality Oath?

Ciaran: Difficult to say at the moment, inasmuch as we don't have very much detail and that's worrying in itself. But what the Government has put across, is the idea that this would be something that doctors, teachers and people who hold public office of some kind, would have to publicly sign up to; a kind of Government-approved sense of equality. It would be a list of things that the Government decides is, 'these are things we like' and potentially, if you don't agree with these things that we like, your ability to work is called into question.

Heather: Why would the Government be looking to bring through this oath?

Ciaran: To answer that question, people have to understand that this Equality Oath sits in the context of how the Government is trying to tackle terrorism. It is part of its counter-terrorism policy in its widest sense. There are a number of strands to that.

The Government has talked about things called Extremism Disruption Orders. There's no clear definition of what constitutes an extremist as yet, the Government have brought out any number of definitions that are all very loose and vague. But if you are deemed to be 'extreme', then you can be subject to one of these Extremism Disruption Orders. That affects your ability to meet with other people and what you can and cannot do on social media. It is a bit like an ASBO on steroids.

Another strand has been the proposed inspections of church youth work through Ofsted. That is checking to see if church settings and what they're teaching is in line with the Government's notion of the Equality Act. Equality comes up again and again in how the Government is trying to deal with counter-terrorism, which sounds very odd and is very odd.

No-one argues with what the Government should be doing, in terms of taking necessary steps to deal with any terrorist threats, but there is a huge difference between dealing with actual violent extremism and the kind of stuff we're talking about here with the Equality Oath, Extremism Disruption Orders and Ofsted inspections of churches and church youth work. It's ridiculous really, the idea that you can deal with violent extremists, or terrorists, by getting them to sign up to some sort of values, or take some public oath. They'll happily go along with it and the people that you marginalise are those people, like Christians and others of conscience, who have a different set of values and aren't prepared to sign up to the Government's definition of what it means to hold British values or the Government's definition of what constitutes equality. So it's very misguided.

Heather: If it's part of those wider proposals that you've referred to, those proposals have been around for quite some time and haven't come through yet, why the delay?

Ciaran: I think the delay would appear to be based on defining what constitutes an extremist and that is certainly true for Extremism Disruption Orders.

The minister at the time, Karen Bradley, who is currently the Culture Secretary, when she was an Extremism Minister, she was in front of a select committee giving 10 different definitions over the course of an hour on what constitutes a non-violent extremist. There is definitely an issue in terms of defining what that is in the law.

The Government seems to have less of a concern around putting Ofsted into church settings though and that seems to be something that they are keen to go ahead with.

Because there are these different strands we can't treat them all as single things. The Government is perhaps moving at different speeds on these things.

There have been reports that Sajid Javid is having meetings about the Equality Oath. That doesn't suggest that he is backing away from it, it suggests that he is looking at a way of trying to make it happen.