Reports that the Home Office has dropped plans to close places of worship linked to ‘extremism’ following a consultation exercise have been welcomed by the Church of England. The proposals, which would have given police powers to seek a court order for the temporary closure of a place of worship if extremist behaviour or terrorist activity was believed to be taking place, were previously criticised by the Rt Revd Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark.
Responding to today’s news, the Bishop commented: ‘I think it is wise that the government has had second thoughts on this element of their proposals. We thought it was a disproportionate response to a problem that could better be tackled in other ways.’
At the beginning of the consultation period, the Bishop of Southwark said: ‘Of course I support the principle of dealing with extremist activity, but targeting places of worship under blanket provisions is excessive and disproportionate.
‘There are about 40,000 churches in Britain of which 16,000 are in the Church of England, and there has never been any suggestion of behaviour related to terrorism in any of them. There seems to be only one case in the public domain, Finsbury Park mosque, where any potential link between a place of worship and terrorist activity has been suggested. Even in that case, the problem was resolved by the management committee within the present law.
‘Other places of gathering are far more likely than places of worship to be used for the purposes the government has in mind and one must question why places of worship have been singled out.
‘Public access to Church of England churches has for long been guaranteed by legislation, giving all members of the public the right to enter during times of public worship. To legislate for restrictions on this right would raise significant issues of freedom of worship.
‘When responding to the Home Office consultation we shall make these points robustly and ask why places of worship are being singled out when other buildings have been more significantly linked with the activity of terrorists.’