Catholic school guidelines ‘drive a coach and horses through equality legislation’

THE National Secular Society has described newly-published Catholic Church employment guidelines for schools as “prurient and tyrannical”, and say it “drives a coach and horses through equality legislation”.

Pink News reported that the guidance, sanctioned by the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, says that teachers in Catholic schools should not marry divorcees, marry in registry offices or in other civil ceremonies (such as civil partnerships) that do not meet the Catholic Church’s approval.

A booklet, Christ at the Centre: Why the Church provides Catholic Schools, says that senior teachers in a partnership of intimacy with another person, outside a form of marriage approved by the church … can be removed from office.

Openly gay senior teachers at Catholic schools could face demotion or the sack if they fail to live according rules set by the Church.

Christ at the Centre blah is written by Monsignor Marcus Stock, General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and co-published by the Catholic Education Service.

Marcus Stock and Vincent Nicholls

Marcus Stock and Vincent Nichols

Stephen Evans, campaigns manager at the National Secular Society, said:

It is scandalous that the Catholic Church is able to use taxpayers’ money to practise this sort of crude discrimination. The document is completely unacceptable. The way a person arranges their private life, so long as it is within the law, should be of no concern to an employer.

He added:

We will be writing to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, asking how he can justify a law that permits teachers in faith schools to be disciplined or dismissed for conduct which is ‘incompatible with the precepts of the school’s religion’. Such a harsh and unfair law drives a coach and horses through equality legislation and leaves teachers, paid using public money, uniquely vulnerable to religious discrimination.

The level of discrimination permitted in ‘faith’ schools is currently the subject of an investigation at the European Commission following a complaint by the National Secular Society concerning whether UK legislation relating to state funded “faith” schools breaches European employment laws.

The NSS has made clear that if it comes across anyone who has been fired from a Catholic school simply because they are living in a relationship that the Church does not approve of, it would be happy to assist them in a legal challenge.

A spokesman for the Church told the Sunday Times:

The expectation is that [school] leaders and those who aspire to leadership positions will make substantive life choices that are in conformity with the gospel and the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said:

It is scandalous that the Catholic Church is able to use taxpayers’ money to practice this sort of crude discrimination.

The way a person arranges their private life, so long as it is within the law, should be of no concern to an employer, not even the Catholic Church, particularly if no scandal is caused.

Ironically the vast majority of British Catholics disagree with their church’s hard line on matters such as homosexuality, contraception and cohabitation.

Commenting on the booklet, the Department for Education said:

This is a matter for schools and their governors. Faith schools can consider whether a person’s conduct is in line with their religious values when dismissing teachers. However schools must also comply with employment law.

The NSS pointed out that, as things stand, many”faith” schools are granted special legal privileges enabling them to discriminate in employment on religious grounds. Many teachers can find themselves blocked from certain positions because they are non-believers or of the “wrong” faith.

In addition, teachers can be disciplined or dismissed for conduct which is “incompatible with the precepts of the school’s religion”.

Hat tip: George Broadhead