UK may impose state supervision on rabbis, imams, priests

Controversial counter-extremism proposal seen as a response to radicalizing elements in British Muslim community

Muslim and Jewish participants in an interfaith initiative at the Jewish Museum in the London Borough of Camden, June 9, 2015 (Yakir Zur/via JTA)
Muslim and Jewish participants in an interfaith initiative at the Jewish Museum in the London Borough of Camden, June 9, 2015 (Yakir Zur/via JTA)

The British government is considering requiring all priests, rabbis and imams in the country to enroll in a “national register of faith leaders” and undergo special training and security checks if they wish to have any dealings with public institutions.

The proposed policy, revealed Saturday by the UK daily The Telegraph, is being examined by the Home Office as part of the government’s counter-extremism strategy.

Any religious leaders who wish to work with universities, government agencies, and the like — “In practice, most faith leaders have some dealings with the public sector,” notes The Telegraph — will have to join the system and face government scrutiny.

The government would “require all faiths to maintain a national register of faith leaders,” and only the government would be empowered to “set out the minimum level of training and checks” for clergy to join the register, a draft document of the new policy explained.

Muslim and Catholic leaders were quoted opposing the proposal. While faith groups were reportedly not consulted in the policy’s development, “senior Catholic sources” told the paper that government efforts to supervise priests would be “firmly resisted.”

A member of the Muslim advocacy group Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, Maulana Shah Raza, warned the government “not to meddle in religious affairs or to expand the state’s involvement in deciding on religious and theological issues.”

Extremism, according to the Home Office proposal, is defined as “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”

It calls on the government to construct a “framework for intervention” when police or local government fail to tackle instances of extremism in their districts.

The document has reportedly been held up for months over some of its more controversial measures, including the proposal to ban people whose behavior “undermines British values” while still not reaching “the thresholds in counter-terrorism legislation.”

The British government has sought ways to counter the radicalizing influences of some extremist mosques in the UK Muslim community. British citizens, the government has noted, have been involved in the jihadist Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and have carried out Islamist-inspired terror attacks on British soil.

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