Mark Spencer, backbench Conservative MP for Sherwood, has this to say in a letter to a constituent:
I believe that everybody in society has a right to free speech and to express their views without fear of persecution. The EDOs will not serve to limit but rather to guarantee it: it is those who seek to stop other people expressing their beliefs who will be targeted. Let me give you an example, one which lots of constituents have been writing about – talking about gay marriage in schools.
The new legislation specifically targets hate speech, so teachers will still be free to express their understanding of the term ‘marriage’, and their moral opposition to its use in some situations without breaking the new laws. The EDOs, in this case, would apply to a situation where a teacher was specifically teaching that gay marriage is wrong.
If this case seems like an (ironically) extreme approach to those holding traditional views on marriage, it is entirely consistent with Theresa May’s claim: “I want to see new civil powers to target extremists who stay within the law but still spread poisonous hatred..”; and David Cameron’s comment: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone’”.
This is dangerous territory for the government. We have moved from a position where dissenting opinion was tolerated, to a place where it was not, to a situation where only the active affirmation of state orthodoxy will do. Not only will the government refuse to tolerate anybody who actively opposes gay marriage but they are now also making it virtually impossible to do anything other than affirm it without question. It is now official policy that certain views – specifically traditional views on marriage – are illegal to express. This is totalitarian control of the very worst order.
Aside from the clear issues related to freedom of speech and freedom of thought, this particular case becomes even more ridiculous when one remembers that there are parts of the UK that still uphold the traditional view of marriage. Northern Ireland has yet to pass a gay marriage act which, bizarrely, makes the entire Stormont government guilty of extremism according to our new prescribed definition. Just as ludicrous is the thought that our own government, up until a few months ago, were themselves guilty of extremism according to this new definition. Every Westminster MP that abstained or voted against gay marriage should, presumably, be subject to EDOs in retrospect. Even if the government aren’t concerned about retroactive action, those who have never fully affirmed the new prescribed direction must surely be investigated as extremists as they remain belligerently unreformed.
We are told that we must all actively support, without reserve, nebulous “British values”. And what are those values? Apparently the affirmation of whatever the government tells us they are. And if we do not assent? We are extremists and fall foul of EDOs; even if you are non-violent, not inciting violence and are in every respect obeying the current law. That is, we can be prosecuted even when – to all intents and purposes – we are obeying the government. It is utterly ludicrous and terrifyingly dangerous.