A school chaplain has taken legal action against a boarding school, after he was reported to the Government’s anti-terrorism unit and sacked for delivering a sermon which encouraged respect and debate on LGBT issues.
Revd Dr Bernard Randall is taking Trent College to court for discrimination, harassment, victimisation and unfair dismissal, supported by the Christian Legal Centre.
The chaplain was concerned when the independent school – which exists to educate children according to “the Protestant and Evangelical principles of the Church of England” – adopted guidance promoting radical LGBT ideology. But when he preached that students are not compelled to accept this, school officials reported him to the Prevent programme.
In June 2018, the school invited Elly Barnes, the leader of LGBT activist group Educate and Celebrate, to give staff training on how they could “embed gender, gender identity and sexual orientation” into the fabric of their school.
During the session, staff were encouraged to chant “smash heteronormativity” – the view that heterosexuality is the norm. Barnes also incorrectly stated that gender identity is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act and must be legally recognised by the school.
As Dr Randall’s job description states he is to be “the particular voice and embodiment of…Christian values which are at the heart of Trent’s ethos”, he raised concerns and was told he would be involved in any decision-making process over whether the school would adopt Educate and Celebrate’s ‘gold standard’ programme.
no one should be told they must accept an ideology
But in January 2019, he discovered the school was set to implement the ‘LGBT inclusive curriculum’ from nursery upwards. When he asked why he had not been consulted, he was told he was omitted because he “might disagree”.
Respect and tolerance
Later in the year, after asking students what subjects they would like to hear covered in future sermons, the chaplain was asked: “How come we are told we have to accept all this LGBT stuff in a Christian school?”
Dr Randall responded in a subsequent sermon to students by saying that “when ideologies compete, we should not descend into abuse, we should respect the beliefs of others, even where we disagree”, adding: “no one should be told they must accept an ideology. Love the person, even where you profoundly dislike the ideas”.
He clearly stated that same-sex attracted people and those struggling with gender dysphoria should not be discriminated against because they are made in the image of God, but told students “you do not have to accept the ideas and ideologies of LGBT activists” where they are in conflict with Christian values.
you do not have to accept the ideas and ideologies of LGBT activists
However, the following week he was interrogated by the Deputy Head and the school’s Designated Safeguarding Lead, who told him his beliefs were not relevant, had upset some students, and had undermined the school’s LGBT agenda. He was immediately suspended pending an investigation.
‘Danger to children’
Following the meeting, Dr Randall was reported to the counter-terrorism watchdog Prevent, as a potentially violent extremist, and to the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) as a danger to children.
While the police officer who reviewed the Prevent report said the sermon posed no terror risk, he reportedly claimed the sermon “was wholly inappropriate for a school, and society in general”.
Dr Randall was dismissed in August 2019, but this was overturned on appeal by the governors. However, he was given a final warning and forced to agree to have his sermons vetted in advance, and that he would not say anything “likely to cause offence or distress to members of the school body”.
The chaplain was furloughed at the beginning of lockdown in March 2020, and when restrictions eased his full-time role was reduced to just seven hours a week. He was eventually made redundant just after Christmas.
Dr Randall said when he discovered he had been reported to Prevent, he was “terrified”.
“I did not sleep. What was I supposed to tell my family? Being reported as a potential terrorist, extremist and a danger to children are arguably the worst crimes you could be accused of.
“When I found out that they had reported me without telling me, my mind was blown trying to comprehend it. I had gone to such lengths in the sermon to stress that we must respect one another no matter what, even people we disagree with. I am not ashamed to say that I cried with relief when I was told that the report to Prevent was not going to be taken further.
my Christian beliefs, the Church of England’s beliefs, were blatantly censored
“Yet I ended up being told that I had to support everybody else’s beliefs, no matter what, while my Christian beliefs, the Church of England’s beliefs, were blatantly censored.”
He continued: “During the disciplinary hearing, I was never asked what I thought, they just assumed that I had extreme religious views. I don’t think the Church of England is an extremist organisation.
“I was doing the job I was employed to do. I wasn’t saying anything that I should not have been able to say in any liberal secular institution. Everyone should be free to accept or reject an ideology. Isn’t that what liberal democracy means?
I don’t think the Church of England is an extremist organisation
“It seems it is no longer enough to just ‘tolerate’ LGBT ideology. You must accept it without question and no debate is allowed without serious consequences.”
He concluded: “I have no choice but to pursue justice.”