Page 10, 31st January 2003

31st January 2003
Page 10
Page 10, 31st January 2003 — Time to stand up for the freedom of our schools
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Time to stand up for the freedom of our schools

Education

Eric Hester B

aware this legislation that threatens Church schools. Over the last few years, Catholic

B

aware this legislation that threatens Church schools. Over the last few years, Catholic schools have seen more and more of their powers taken away by the Government. Catholic governors used to be able to decide the curriculum of their schools — not any more: the government has imposed the National Curriculum. Our schools used to be able to decide which pupils they would admit but this Government's first Education Act seriously curtailed the powers of schools. It intends to stop Catholic schools interviewing pupils as well.

Now, it is the right of our schools to employ whom they want that is under attack. The United Kingdom has signed up to a European Union directive that bans discrimination in employment on the grounds of religion and sexual orientation, but not — can you believe it — of politics. Consider the following two advertisements.

Advert A: "Wanted for Holy Family RC Primary School a school secretary. Applicants need not be Roman Catholics but, because there is a great deal of involvement with pupils and parents, should be in sympathy with the aims of Catholic education."

Advert B: "Wanted for the Bogshire Labour Party, an assistant secretary for filing and reprographic work. Candidates must be a fully paid-up member of the Labour Party (proof will be required) and a member of a Trade Union."

Under the new regulations, Advert A will be illegal and the governors of the school could be fined a large sum of money. It will be illegal to advertise for a person in sympathy with the very aims of a school. However, Advert B will be perfectly legal. That is not discrimination, you see. Also, it will be perfectly legal to advertise for such New Labour sacred cows as a "vegetarian" or one "opposed to the fur trade". Only Christian churches will have no right to advertise for sympathetic candidates.

Under the proposed legislation, there will be no right to refuse to employ practising homosexuals in any jobs, including teaching. Consider this letter of application:. "I should especially like to teach the infants at Our Lady's School, since my homosexual partner and I are hoping to adopt a boy with the help of Stonewall, the organisation for homosexuals of which we are both strong members."

Any Catholic governing body that did not shortlist such an applicant would risk being taken to an employment tribunal and being forced to pay vast compensation.

Under the draft legislation, an employee can also sue an employer for harassment. For example, the head of RE in a Catholic school announces that she has become a practising lesbian. She keeps her job, threatening to go to an employment tribunal if the governors dismiss her. The chaplain and other teachers quietly talk to her and encourage her to turn back to Christ. She claims the comments about her way of life "create a hostile and intimidating environment". She sues for harassment.

Neither of the above examples are fanciful. This legislation is being slipped through very quietly since if people in general knew about it there would be an outcry. Naturally, the BBC has scarcely mentioned it. Catholic schools, parents, governors, teachers and parish priests must act urgently to stop it.

The hypocrisy of allowing political discrimination should be exposed. I am very much indebted to the admirable Christian Institute for the information about this threat. It is not a Catholic organisation but Catholics should learn from it and support it in the best of ecumenical co-operation. Quite frankly, it upholds Catholic morals far better than many so-called Catholic organisations.

So far as I know, not one of our bishops has opposed the government's planned directives and the Catholic Education Service has been largely silent, too. It is no use making a fuss when it is too late.

The Christian Institute's website is WVVW.christianorg.uk




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