Christian charities CARE, Christian Concern, Evangelical Alliance, Evangelical Movement of Wales, Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship and The Christian Institute have today issued a joint statement and call to action over Welsh Government proposals to register and inspect church youth work.
The statement reads:
“Requiring churches in Wales to register before they are legally allowed to help children learn the Christian values our society was built on is an unjustified restriction of religious liberty. Whether the threshold is 6 hours in any week or higher, the principle of outlawing ‘unregistered churches’ from teaching children the gospel is an unacceptable overreach of the state.
“The Welsh Government says churches will only be inspected for compliance with its “fundamental values” if there is a complaint. However, the scope for vexatious complaints is considerable, especially in the current climate of aggressive secularism and religious illiteracy. The experience of some Christian schools in England is that inspectors themselves can be ignorant of or hostile to Christian beliefs and practices.
“We do not believe the Welsh Government should appoint a state regulator of religion. For an inspector to scrutinise a Sunday School class, Bible study, youth meeting or church weekend away would be highly intrusive. The prospect of inspectors questioning volunteer leaders and children (without their parents) is an unwarranted incursion into private religion and family life.
“Christians are peace-loving, law-abiding citizens who respect authority and love their neighbours. They are a major source of volunteering. To require such people to submit to registration and inspection to ensure they are not engaged in “undesirable teaching” is profoundly misconceived.
“Whilst Christians wholeheartedly support proper measures to safeguard children, these proposals will lead to a loss of civil liberties and create a large bureaucracy that will divert resources away from more effective safeguarding and anti-extremism measures. Those who are really putting children at risk will simply ignore or effortlessly circumvent the registration requirements. We urge the Welsh Government to drop these plans and consider how the Disclosure and Barring Service could be more effectively used.”
It concludes with the following urgent call to action:
“We call on Christians, churches and affected organisations in Wales to contact their AMs and urge them to oppose these plans.”
CARE Chief Executive Nola Leach said:
“These plans could lead to an alarming undermining of religious freedom.
“Through their youth work, churches across Wales are making a valuable contribution to local communities but these proposals needlessly put that contribution in jeopardy.
“The Government must urgently reconsider its intrusive proposals to appoint a state regulator to inspect church youth work.”
Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, added:
“If introduced, these plans will represent a serious threat to the freedom of churches to faithfully teach the whole Bible.
“Churches and volunteer groups are doing such good work in Wales with young people – why do the Government feel the need to start turning up on their doorstep to check up on them?”
The Evangelical Alliance’s Head of Public Policy, Simon McCrossan, said:
“These proposals will do little to make children any safer from violent extremism and will jeopardise historic religious freedoms in Wales. We call upon the Welsh Government to reconsider their approach and use their existing powers in a proportionate and targeted manner.”
General Manager for Evangelical Movement of Wales, Gareth Edwards said:
“We understand the need to combat extremism and safeguard children and are committed to being transparent about the Biblical teachings at the heart of our activities. However, we do not believe Government inspectors should police Christian youth work, and consider the subjective nature of some of the proposed criteria, such as ‘tolerance’, to be too vague and open to abuse”.
Mark Jones, Chairman of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, said:
“The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship condemns violence and terrorism. We have grave concerns about the proposals, which could be counter-productive to the stated aims and may arguably place the UK in breach of its international human rights obligations.”
And Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, added:
“There is no place for a state regulator of religion in Wales. The vital work of churches across Wales with young people is worthy of respect.
“Rather than seeking to interfere and undermine churches the Welsh Government should be looking to support such work as much as they can.”