Gove investigates Catholic school petition on gay marriage | World news | The Observer

The British Catholic Education Service could be in trouble with the law over it’s role in encouraging students to sign a petition against gay marriage:

Gove investigates Catholic school petition on gay marriage  

The education secretary, Michael Gove, is to examine claims that rules were breached when Catholic schools were asked to encourage their pupils to sign a national petition against gay marriage.

The Catholic Education Service (CES) wrote to nearly 400 British secondary schools to encourage support for the petition organised by Coalition for Marriage, a Christian campaign that has registered more than 47,000 signatures for its campaign.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said yesterday that it was looking into complaints that the request violated regulations concerning impartiality.

“Schools have a responsibility under law to ensure children are insulated from political activity and campaigning in the classroom,” the spokesman said. “While faith schools, rightly, have the freedom to teach about sexual relations and marriage in the context of their own religion, that should not extend to political campaigning.”

The Observer.

The CES insistence that it is simply presenting church teaching is misleading. It is one thing to offer guidance on how to conduct their own lives, but quite another to encourage them to impose those views through the political process on people of other faiths, or of none. The letter sent to schools, and the encouragement to support the petition against gay marriage, is a direct intervention in a political process, and is unacceptable.

It is particularly scandalous that the letter was distributed to even the youngest pupils in Catholic secondary schools, amounting to completely inappropriate manipulation and abuse of young minds.

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1 comment for “Gove investigates Catholic school petition on gay marriage | World news | The Observer

  1. Chris Morley
    April 29, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    This was discussed on the Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ this morning. People can hear it online here and the discussion starts about 32.45 minutes into the programme.

    A barrister, an expert in educational law issues, David Wolfe QC (a member of Matrix Chambers) was asked if the law had been broken and the lawyer’s answer was yes.

    Education law requires any presentation by schools of a political issue to be “balanced”. Whether the law should be changed to allow gay marriage equality is clearly a political issue because it is under active public debate through the government’s consultation; asking pupils to sign a petition makes any schools’ presentation one-sided, not “balanced” as required by education law.
    While religious freedom means it is fine for Catholic schools to teach the Church’s view on the meaning of marriage, but since this is currently a live political issue, this must be ‘balanced’ with other perspectives, and specifically asking pupils to sign the Coalition for Marriage’s petition opposing the law change, makes it unbalanced and therefore illegal.
    Equality law doesn’t give a religious school the right to present a school audience with an ‘unbalanced’ political presentation.

    Carol Buchanon, the head teacher of Catholic Cardinal Newman School in Coventry, was also interviewed; she had decided not to follow CES advice and did not make any presentation at her school; she thought it was inappropriate to ask children, especially those under 16, to sign a political petition on an issue that concerns adults.
    The Archbishops’ pastoral letter was to adults sat in Church and was not intended for a child audience in school. There’s a danger children will misconstrue or overly simplify a complex moral issue, and she indicated she was worried it might lead some children into homophobia and anti-gay bullying in school, when the Church teaches the need to show care for gay people.
    Discussing gay marriage equality and the church’s teaching on the issue might be appropriate in a 6th form debate context, but not otherwise.

    The Catholic Education Service declined to provide anyone to comment. Their earlier written statement insisted that they were simply encouraging schools to provide a ‘religious’ view (not a political view) on the issue, by suggesting the Archbishops’ pastoral letter be read out to schools and pupils being asked to sign the petition.

    Jack Valero (Press Officer for Opus Dei in the UK), spoke for the hierarchy-supporting organisation ‘Catholic Voices’. He insisted it was all about presenting a religious view and was therefore justified.

    [The entire ‘Catholic Voices’ team of 32 people are identified by name and photographs here ]

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