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BHA: Catholic Education Service has likely broken multiple laws in pushing anti-gay marriage petition on pupils

The Catholic Education Service (CES) has written to every state-funded Catholic secondary school in England and Wales and asked them to urge pupils to sign a petition against gay marriage, it has been reported today in PinkNews.co.uk. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has branded the revelation as ‘absolutely outrageous’, and believes that the CES has likely broken multiple laws in pushing such a petition in pupils.

Last month, the CES wrote to all Catholic secondary schools and asked them to draw attention to a letter against gay marriage from the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark which was read out at Sunday Mass on 11 March. The CES also asked schools to ‘draw attention’ to pupils as young as 11, a petition against gay marriage from the Coalition for Marriage. The BHA is supporting a counter-petition from the Coalition for Equal Marriage, being one of the first groups to do so.

Pink News’s article highlights that the CES’s actions likely broke the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits discrimination against pupils based on their sexual orientation. The BHA believe the CES’s actions likely break sections 406-7 of the Education Act 1996, which forbids ‘the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school’, and requires balanced treatment of political issues. This law was successfully used in 2007 to stop schools showing Al Gore’s climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, without also explaining scientific errors in the film.

BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘This action by the Catholic Education Service is absolutely outrageous. Not only does this break equalities legislation, it also breaks laws against political indoctrination. The Catholic Church must have realised this before it decided to send out this legislation, but they decided to do so anyway. And in doing so, they have undercut one of their core arguments against gay marriage, which is supposedly to protect children from exposure to such matters.

‘If any pupil at one of the schools concerned is interested in taking a legal case forward on this, we urge them to get in touch with us.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Read sections 406-7 of the Education Act 1996, regarding political indoctrination and requirement for balance: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/56/part/V/chapter/IV/crossheading/politics

Read section 89 of the Equality Act 2010, which exempts content of curriculum: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/89

Read section 89’s explanatory notes, which make clear that delivery is not exempt: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/notes/division/3/6/1/6

Read pages 15-16 of the Equality Act 2010 Advice for School Leaders, School Staff, Governing Bodies and Local Authorities, on sexual orientation and religion and belief, which in the BHA’s opinion is not sufficiently clear on this matter: http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/e/equality%20act%20guidance%20december%202011.pdf

Read page 3 of the Catholic Education Service for England and Wales’s equally ambiguous Equality Act 2010 – Guidance Note, on curriculum: http://www.cesew.org.uk/temp/EQUALITYspACTsp2010sp%96spGUIDANCEspNOTEspPROVISIONSspRELATINGspTOspSCHOOLSspWITHspAspRELIGIOUSspCHARACTER.pdf

Read PinkNews.co.uk’s article, Catholic school ‘urged pupils as young as 11 to sign anti-gay marriage petition’, 25 April 2012: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/04/25/exclusive-catholic-school-urged-pupils-as-young-as-11-to-sign-anti-gay-marriage-petition/

Read more about the BHA’s work on Sex and Relationships Education: http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/sex-and-relationships-education

Pink News quotes sixth-form student Katherine of St Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls in Carshalton as saying:

‘In our assembly for the whole Sixth Form you could feel people bristling as she explained parts of the letter and encouraged us to sign the petition.

‘She said things about gay marriage and civil partnerships being unnatural. It was just a really out-dated, misjudged and heavily biased presentation.

‘A few of us in my year are buying Gay Pride badges to pin on our uniform and thought about staging a Stonewall coup by posting the ‘Some people are gay – get over it’ posters around school.”

‘Most importantly though, there are several people in my year who aren’t heterosexual – myself included – and I for one was appalled and actually disgusted by what they were encouraging.

‘After all, that’s discrimination they were urging impressionable people to engage in, which is unacceptable.’

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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