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Dangerous draft guidance threatens Christian schools

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The Christian Legal Centre's Roger Kiska discusses the implications for independent faith schools being forced to teach pro-LGBT sex education and urges you to make your voice heard on the matter.

The funny thing about equality law is that the one thing it certainly does not do is promote equality. Instead, by defining individuals by a single characteristic, it breeds division and tribalism.

Competing ‘rights holders’ spend millions of pounds campaigning and exert immense moral and political pressure to make sure they earn a privileged spot in an ‘equality hierarchy’ that was never intended by parliament when the Equality Act was drafted. Rather than looking to the uniting force that is our shared humanity, equality law audaciously says that some people are created more equal than others and that we must celebrate their particular protected characteristic, even if it violates our conscience to do so.

This concept becomes particularly insidious when agencies of the government begin usurping the role of parliament to extend their ‘moral’ influence over the rest of us. Case in point, the proposed draft guidance issued by the Department for Education in March 2018, which fundamentally shifts education policy to require privately-funded faith schools to teach that homosexual behaviour and transgenderism represent equally valid alternative lifestyles to Christianity. All earlier guidance and, much more importantly, the 2014 Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations themselves, had no such obligation.

The proposed advice has been challenged by Orthodox Jewish parents on the grounds that it violates freedom of religion, parental rights and compels speech by forcing faith schools to teach things contrary to their deeply held beliefs. They are right to make such a challenge and I commend them for taking this brave stand. Does the rule of law have any meaning if unelected civil servants can compel schools to act in a manner which undermines the laws parliament put in place to protect faith schools? Does it have any meaning if they can undermine the rights of the parents who send their children to those schools?

Independent faith schools exist partly because the law obliges the United Kingdom to respect the right of parents to raise their children according to their own religious traditions. Forcing these same schools to ‘actively promote’ behaviour or themes which are considered to be sinful in those traditions cuts to the very heart of why we have laws which protect religious freedom in the first place. There is a ‘t’ word for state action which compels a new morality and it is not tolerance; it is tyranny.

At paragraph 58 of the draft guidance, the Department for Education notes that while schools do not necessarily have to promote alternative lifestyles or same-sex marriage,  they must teach acceptance; and that while other’s life choices may be different they are all equally valid. Teaching only love of neighbour, the guidance suggests, will no longer suffice. Schools must actively speak on matters of homosexual lifestyles and gender reassignment. Semantically, in the context of privately-funded faith schools, the position that this is not a form of promoting alternative lifestyles is dubious. It is a position that creates a serious existential threat to these schools being able to retain their fidelity to their biblical beliefs and ethos.

This is particularly shocking given that this guidance is not a reflection of either the law or of any other previous guidance. The law is strikingly clear. In relation to the quality of education required of privately-funded faith schools, the Education (Independent School School Standards) Regulations 2014 says at Section 2(2)(d)(i-ii) that faith schools teach personal, social, health, and economic education in a manner consistent with their faith ethos, encouraging students to have respect for others including those with protected characteristics. This could be accomplished without actively discussing any of the protected characteristics. Similarly, with regard to the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural development of pupils, Section 5(b)(iv) says that respect for others must be actively promoted, again without requiring specific teaching about any of the protected characteristics.   

If the proposed advice becomes the new standard for independent faith schools, and the bar which their respective inspectorates judge them by, there is a very real chance that this could signal the death knell for Christian schools which genuinely want to stay true to their ethos.

Thankfully, in a democratic society, your voice matters. It matters so much, in fact, that apart from legal action, one of the few things standing in the way of this proposed advice becoming official is you. If you are a concerned Christian parent, we encourage you to write to your local MP and to the Secretary of State for Education, the Right Honourable Damian Hinds MP at:

Department for Education
Piccadilly Gate
Store Street
Manchester M1 2WD

Take a stand for Christian education. Take a stand for your children’s future. State-funded schools, and far too many church schools, have already capitulated to the cultural zeitgeist that alternative lifestyles should be promoted and celebrated. Educational options for faithful Christian parents are shrinking. If this guidance is passed, it will harm us all. We need to stand up for each other. Please act now.