Canada's National Post reports that religious figures throughout Britain – imams, priests, rabbis and others – are being forced to enroll in a "national register of faith leaders" and be required to undergo government-specified training and security checks under the guise of combating "extremism."
A leaked draft of the program has become a highly controversial addition to the British government's new counter-extremism strategy, and it apparently goes much further than previous versions, the Post reported, citing details from The Sunday Telegraph.
The strategy, which is due to be formally published this fall, says the British Home Office will "require all faiths to maintain a national register of faith leaders" and that the government plans to "set out the minimum level of training and checks" that all faith leaders must obtain.
The Post further noted:
Registration will be compulsory for all faith leaders who wish to work with the public sector, including universities, the document says. In practice, most faith leaders have some dealings with the public sector and the requirement will cover the great majority. The move marks a significant deepening of the state's involvement in religion and is likely to be resisted by many religious representatives.
Permission to preachAn imam and founding member of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board [MINAB], Maulana Shah Raza, warned London "not to meddle in religious affairs or to expand the state's involvement in deciding on religious and theological issues."
"The Government needs to concentrate on ensuring that safeguards are in place to protect the public and treating all faith communities equally," he added.
MINAB, a self-regulatory entity that promotes best practices, was launched with ministerial support under the most recent Labour government. However, relations with the current administration have chilled following the group's refusal to sever its ties to extremist mosques and imams.
The government's new efforts to track religious leaders comes amid reports that the British government recently killed two citizens who had gone to the Middle East to fight for ISIS in a drone strike.
Government officials have said that Reyaad Khan, 21, from Cardiff – the main target of the drone strike – was radicalized at the Welsh city's al-Manar mosque, a site where several extremist preachers have gathered, including Muhammad Mustafa al-Muqri, an ally of al Qaeda and former leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization.
The Post also reported:
Another extremist preacher closely linked with a terrorist, Usman Ali, who taught one of the men who killed soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, was appointed chaplain at the area's local hospital and was also on the management committee of a community center. He was only sacked from his NHS role after an undercover reporter filmed him inviting a guest speaker who praised the Taliban.
U.S. religious freedoms also under assaultAlthough Americans are not yet required to actually register with government officials and take required training, there are growing signs of religious intolerance in the United States. In Houston, for example, the openly lesbian activist mayor Annise Parker recently drew the ire of religious leaders in the city when she backed city officials' subpoenas of their sermons in a bid to determine if their teachings violated a new equal rights ordinance she led.
"The measure bans anti-gay discrimination among businesses that serve the public, private employers, in housing and in city employment and city contracting," the Washington Post reported. "Under one of the hotly contested parts of the ordinance, transgender people barred access to a restroom would be able to file a discrimination complaint."
Religious leaders in the city were upset that the ordinance exempted religious institutions, but they became convinced that Parker's administration was targeting them.
In addition, business owners in the U.S. who have refused services to gay and lesbian couples on religious principles have been targeted by state governments and activist groups and sued in federal court.