The First Amendment of the US Constitution protects both free speech and the free exercise of religion. Perhaps, post-Brexit, Britain will be allowed to treat itself to something similar.
We are going to need it. Hardly a week passes without some public body overstepping the mark in seeking to curb free expression, religious practice, or both. This week, Ofsted’s annual report appears to be demanding powers to combat thoughtcrime in faith schools.
It is fine for such an organisation to police practices, but Ofsted now seemingly aspires to regulate opinions. Its report complained about a Muslim school’s ethos, which it said was spreading “discriminatory views”. Is the Church’s refusal to ordain women priests a “discriminatory view”, I wonder.
Another section of the report says that some faith groups hold “beliefs” that “clash with” fundamental British values. Given that one of those values is “tolerance”, such clashes should not necessarily be a problem. The law requires faith schools to promote British values, not to align their entire religious tradition with whatever this week’s liberal orthodoxy happens to be. A society that prizes tolerance must surely allow people the right to have a traditional view of marriage.
To be fair, Ofsted today has never been in better hands: Amanda Spielman, the new Chief Inspector, is as sensible and level-headed as anyone in Whitehall. And the report raises genuine concerns about unregistered schools, often run by extreme, fringe faith groups. But officialdom has form in this area. It does not take a great leap of the imagination to see, for instance, a big crash coming between the mainstream faiths and transgender ideologues. Police forces up and down the country have shown in their often crass social media policies that they could very easily regard parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as hate speech. We need a constitutional protection and we need it soon.
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