A LOCAL COUNCIL in England is conducting an “urgent review” of its relationship with a Christian charity criticised by the UK government for “hate speech”.

The National Secular Society raised concerns with Hampshire County Council about Zion Projects in Eastleigh after finding a video from 2020 in which the charity’s chair called Islam “demonic”. In response, the council told the NSS it is “conducting an urgent review” of its relationship and funding of Zion Projects.

In a now-removed video on Vimeo, Zion Projects chair and trustee Danny Stupple responded to a question about Islamic ‘calls to prayer’ being broadcast during the Covid-19 lockdown by saying “a very strong force of spiritual wickedness known as Islam is engaging in warfare against the Lord with its open air prayers”.

He said that Islamic prayers are “one example” of “the enemy” trying to use the pandemic, adding that the Islamic system of belief “is truly demonic”. He advised that anyone who hears the call to prayers should “deny it power in Jesus’ name”, which is “more than able to deal with the spiritual forces of wickedness in those prayers”.

Last year, Zion Projects received £43,220 from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) as part of their ‘Faith New Deal’ fund. The NSS has criticised the scheme as “discriminatory”. Several of the groups funded by the Faith New Deal require workers and volunteers to be Christians.

In February, the NSS wrote to Baroness Scott of Bybrook, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DLUHC, to express concerns about Zion Projects. A spokesperson for DLUHC responded: “These comments are abhorrent and we strongly condemn them. We take hate speech against any group or individual extremely seriously.” It added that it is “urgently investigating this issue and the Department’s relationship” with the charity, including funding.

In the same video, Stupple also suggests God is using the pandemic to “make the point of the value of life” because he anticipates “the same amount of babies being saved as the number of people who die” as a result of women being unable to get abortions during lockdown.

Stupple ran as an independent candidate in the Eastleigh 2013 by-election. He opposed same-sex marriage as part of his campaign, saying in a campaign video that “real marriage is between a man and a woman”.

A spokesperson from Hampshire County Council told the NSS the council is “now conducting an urgent review of the matter, including our relationship with Zion Project, and any funding awarded by Hampshire County Council. “They said that prior to any grant award, applicants are reviewed and “a variety of checks are undertaken”.

They added that “all organisations are required to sign a grant agreement which requires recipients to comply with the Equality Act 2010, and not to discriminate against any person or persons, including on the basis of religion”, adding that following the review, “a decision will be taken as to whether Zion Projects will be barred from receiving further grants from Hampshire County Council.”

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: “This case demonstrates the pitfalls of funding faith groups without protections in place to ensure public money doesn’t go to those who preach extremist or divisive dogma. While there are many religious organisations that do wonderful work for their local communities without promoting hate, there are unfortunately many other faith groups, including registered charities, whose ideology includes intolerant views that are corrosive to social cohesion.

“We welcome Hampshire County Council’s investigation into Zion Projects. We hope that as a result, the council terminates its relationship with this charity, and applies greater scrutiny to any future groups it funds to make sure those groups benefit, rather than harm, community relations.”

* Source: National Secular Society