In 2019 Cornerstone’s fostering service was downgraded from “Good” to “Requires Improvement”, threatening their reputation and continued existence as a Christian charity.

The regulator Ofsted took issue with their policy of only placing children with committed evangelical Christians. They claimed it unlawfully discriminates against same-sex couples.

Supported by The Christian Institute, Cornerstone are mounting a legal challenge. The Judicial Review is to be heard in the High Court (using video link) on the 6 and 7 May 2020.

The case has huge consequences for Cornerstone and will have far reaching implications for other organisations.

Ofsted’s heavy-handed decision comes after years of opposition to the charity’s evangelical Christian beliefs.

In 2008 Cornerstone were contacted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) over their long-standing policy of only recruiting evangelical Christian foster carers, after new equality laws came into force.

Cornerstone successfully responded with the help of The Christian Institute.

Shortly after, Cornerstone faced scrutiny again – this time from the Charity Commission. Again, it questioned their requirement for carers to be committed Christians and required proof that it was exempt from religious discrimination law.

The Christian Institute’s legal team helped Cornerstone draft a response to the Charity Commission and in January 2011 the regulator gave the adoption and fostering agency a clean bill of health.

The Commission noted that Cornerstone’s requirement for carers to be committed Christians was lawful on the basis that it seeks to provide a distinctly Christian-based adoption and fostering service.

Cornerstone CEO Pam Birtle explains why it is challenging Ofsted:

Without the involvement of The Christian Institute, their legal team and their support financially our doors would have closed. Pam Birtle, Cornerstone General Manager

The Christian Institute’s Solicitor Advocate, Sam Webster, explains the wider significance of the 2011 case:

The positive outcome in this case demonstrated that Christian organisations do not need to compromise their beliefs in order to remain within the law.

The case highlighted how important it is for Christian charities to get their foundational documents right and to apply them in practice in a consistent and faithful way. Sam Webster, Solicitor Advocate, The Christian Institute

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Christian fostering agency in High Court challenge against Ofsted after hostile report orders them to abandon religious ethos