Christians warned government could use EU debate to slip through laws that 'undermine Christian freedom'

Concerns have been raised about the future of street preachers under the government's plans for EDOs.Reuters

Christians have been warned the government may use the distraction of the EU referendum to slip through controversial plans to inspect churches and label Christians as "extremists".

Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, said he was concerned that while public attention focused on the debate over the European Union, ministers may speed through "highly contentious legislation which harms Christian freedoms".

The Christian lobby group pointed to proposals to allow Ofsted to inspect out-of-school settings including churches and the plans for Extremist Disruption Orders (EDOs) as two particular areas of concern. Hart fears Christians could be banded as "extremists" for opposing same-sex relationships.

"Christians must not stop holding the Westminster Government to account over its proposals," he urged.

"We will be on our guard but Christians across the nation also need to be vigilant and ready to speak out to prevent this happening."

Simon Calvert, a spokesperson for the Christian Institute, told Christian Today it "would not be unknown for the government to do something controversial while people's attention is elsewhere".

"We are just encouraging Christians to keep on raising these important issues of religious liberties," he said.

The Christian Institute has found unlikely bedfellows in the National Secular Society (NSS) and the Peter Tatchell Foundation, a gay-rights campaign group. Alongside several politicians and other organisations, the unusual trio have formed the Defend Free Speech campaign which seeks to oppose the government's plans for EDOs.

The orders will be issued by a High Court when it is persuaded that someone is "participating in activities that spread, incite, promote or justify hatred against a person (or group of persons) on the grounds of that person's (or group of persons') disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and/or transgender identity".

Anyone receiving an EDO would be sanctioned and could face a ban from broadcasting or working with children. They could also require police approval before posting anything on Facebook or social media.

"Law-abiding citizens, such as Christians, could be caught by the vague definitions of extremism that get bandied about when ministers are trying to talk tough," Hart said.

"Broad-brush counter-extremism policies catch ordinary citizens and are actually a waste of resources. They do not make us safer. They make us less safe by distracting the authorities from focusing on genuine threats."