Humanists UK comment on Catholic threat to close Guernsey state schools

The Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, who has responsibility for Guernsey, has threatened to close three state schools on the Bailiwick after objecting to an aspect of the proposed new anti-discrimination law. The Discrimination Ordinance, which will be debated by the States of Guernsey tomorrow, is set to outlaw religious discrimination, including teaching staff in schools, so that no-one is disadvantaged in getting a job or promotion because of their religion or belief.

There are three Catholic schools in Guernsey. The running costs are all state-funded but the Church owns the physical buildings. Currently these schools are able to discriminate in the employment of teaching staff by requiring them to share the Catholic faith of the school and can prevent non-Catholic staff from holding leadership positions.

Bishop Egan is arguing that this is unacceptable to the Catholic community as within state schools with a Catholic ethos such discrimination is, he says, needed to ensure that the teachers share the faith of the school. This is needed so that parents have a right to be provided with faith school options. After his concerns were raised the Committee for Employment and Social Security, which drafted the Ordinance, decided to delay the outlawing of such discrimination in state schools with a religious character for five years to consider the matter further. Nonetheless, the Bishop is still threatening to close the schools.

Humanists UK, which worked with the States of Guernsey to draft the Ordinance, supports the discrimination against staff being made illegal. It has been argued that there are conflicting issues between allowing such discrimination to continue and the right of parents to educate their child in line with their faith. But the latter argument is wrong, as parents have no right to a state funded religious school of any particular sort. They merely have a right for the school to not contradict their beliefs, which schools of no religious character do not do. Indeed, preventing such discrimination is good for children’s own freedom of religion or belief.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented,

‘The Catholic Church’s threat to close state schools is very disappointing and will only serve to cause uncertainty in children’s education. This Ordinance is a major step forward for human rights and equality in Guernsey and should be embraced and celebrated by all. It is unacceptable that those in the teaching profession should continue to be discriminated against, and should accept fewer options for employment and career advancement merely because of their background. We hope that this dispute can be resolved amicably and that the schools will continue to offer the children of Guernsey a quality education.’