The U.K. Questions the Charitable Status of Schools That Allow Extremist Views

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February 28, 2011; Source: The Guardian | In the U.S., there has long been a debate over some charities fear of being used as conduits for money to Islamic–and other–terrorists. Despite some very limited examples of litigation by the Justice Department, the major focus has been on the government's "voluntary" guidelines for charitable and philanthropic giving to non-U.S. charities– long contested by many activist nonprofits and foundations as overly cautious and burdensome. In the U.K., the government is questioning the charitable bona fides of schools that tolerate or allow "the promotion of extremism."

In a government review called "Prevent," the Home Office is preparing to issue a report at the end of March which might offer a definition of extremism "that suggests anyone who opposes the rule of law, democracy, and equality for women could be deemed extreme." Heading Prevent is Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile, who thinks the review should not be limited to "violent extremism," but should include extremist views "such as advocacy of sharia law."

If Prevent generates a definition that is accepted by the government (and presumably Parliament), extremism-tolerating nonprofit schools could potentially lose their charitable status and their leaders might face legal penalties. Lord Carlile's review is hampered, however, by the Charity Commission's loss of 140 staff in recent government budget cutbacks. Lord Carlile also acknowledged that "many Muslims were not being radicalised in mosques [or mosque-affiliated religious schools], but on the internet and in gathering places for young men like gyms."

The UK is now facing the American dilemma: How much of British society's rights of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and perhaps freedom of religion is the nation willing to forego in order to clamp down on extremist Islamic viewpoints? Will the rights or freedoms that are foregone be worth the feeling of additional security that the nation achieves by broadly defining "extremist views"?

On the other hand, when do certain kinds of violent and even non-violent viewpoints (such as beliefs about the roles of women) become intolerable for a liberal (as in Locke, Rousseau, etc.) democracy? And if the sources of extremism are really on the Internet and in the gyms, what is the Home Office going to propose to control extremist thinking in those venues?—Rick Cohen