Unitarians and Free Christians in Britain have called upon other religious groups to join them in highlighting the dangers to civil liberties of the Draft Communications Bill, which would increase government powers to view records of private internet and telephone use.
The bill was published by the government two days ago (14 June). Civil liberties campaigners have nicknamed it a "snoopers' charter".
In April, the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches passed a resolution saying that they “deplored” the proposed legislation. They called upon their members “to oppose vigorously this gross violation of the rights of privacy and civil liberty”.
Yesterday (15 June), the Assembly's Chief Officer, Derek McAuley, said that “the publication of the draft bill in no way meets our concerns about the infringement of civil liberties inherent in the proposals”.
The denomination has a long history of campaigning for civil liberties, based in part of their own experience of persecution and discrimination down the centuries, in Britain, Ireland and elsewhere.
“For Unitarians, religious and civil liberty have always gone hand in hand,” explained McAuley, “The rights of the individual need to be respected in both spheres and we support personal freedom, drawing upon longstanding views of the right of individuals to live their lives without disproportionate government interference. These proposals go too far.”
The Unitarians said they have always been sceptical of the argument that “those who don’t break the law have nothing to fear” when used to justify legislation that interferes with the lives of individuals. “This has been a charter for increasing government interference and endangers the traditional relationship between the citizen and the state,” argued McAuley.
The Unitarians urged other faith groups to “think carefully about the implications of such legislation”. McAuley said, “We hope other religious bodies will join us to highlight the dangers”.
The General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches has 170 congregations and fellowships in Great Britain and about 5,000 members.
They describe themselves as “a progressive and liberal religious movement which grew out of the Radical Reformation and is now open to insights from all faiths and philosophies”.