Gay rights clause could lead to disciplining of Christian teachers
A Christian charity is today publishing a report which raises grave concerns over new teachers’ regulations which could require them to change their beliefs. The charity’s concerns are backed up by legal advice from a leading QC specialising in Employment Law which the report quotes in full.
The General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW), the new regulator for the teaching profession, published a draft professional code earlier this year. The ‘General Principles’ section of the code requires all teachers to respect rights and needs based on sexual orientation. The Christian Institute argues that this could lead to Christian teachers being disciplined for their beliefs since mainstream Christianity holds that homosexual practice, like all sexual activity outside of marriage, is morally wrong. The same concerns would be shared by teachers from other faiths.
Despite the fact that under the law all pupils in state schools must be taught about the importance of marriage, under the new code Christian teachers caught promoting marriage could be disciplined by their LEA using the GTCW’s code.
In a legal opinion John Bowers QC, prominent employment and human rights barrister and author of Blackstone’s Bowers on Employment Law, states that teachers who are genuinely seeking to follow their own conscience and beliefs could have disciplinary measures taken against them if LEAs and Governing Bodies decide to enforce this type of code (para 16 of the opinion).
The GTCW may only envisage themselves using the code in limited circumstances, but the QC’s legal advice argues that it is very likely that employment tribunals will use such a code in their proceedings and that it is inevitable that LEAs and governing bodies will take the code into account when deciding on whether to dismiss teachers (paras 4,5).
The application of the code may result in breaches of teachers’ human rights under articles 9,10 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (para 14).
The legal opinion argues that the use of this type of code by LEAs and others “may lead to teachers or applicants for teaching posts being forced to take lengthy and costly legal proceedings to pursue their legal rights.” (para 16).
No need for the gay rights clause
Some claim that there is a major problem of homophobic bullying in schools and that this code is necessary to deal with it. Whilst agreeing that all pupils must be protected from bullying, the report questions whether the General Principles section is the best way to do it and why some of the most common grounds for bullying are omitted but others are included. The bullying of slow learners is not covered. Neither is the bullying of children because of physical characteristics such as short height or being fat.
The report argues that it would be better if there was a general statement about bullying rather than the mention of only some grounds of bullying.
The report points out that two of the main studies on “homophobic bullying” do not include any homosexual pupils. Yet the claim is still made that homophobic bullying is rife. Researchers have claimed that because children use the word “gay” as a term of abuse this constitutes homophobic bullying. The report disagrees and points out that name calling is common and involves many terms of abuse.
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said today
“The General Principles section of the GTCWs code could well lead to teachers being disciplined for their religious or moral beliefs. Our concerns are very real and are clearly supported by the legal advice we have received. I hope that the GTCW will amend the section which, as drafted, has serious implications for religious liberties.
The GTCW must recognise that their code has legal status. Employers in taking disciplinary action against teachers will inevitably use it.
It is the general statement about respecting rights which could cause considerable difficulties for Christian teachers and those of other faiths. Rather than require teachers to respect gay rights it would be better to require them to respect people. We need an approach which states that all forms of bullying are wrong and which deals firmly with bullies, whoever their victims are.”
Note for Editors:
(1) The Christian Institute is a charity which seeks to promote the Christian faith in the UK and give a Christian perspective on moral and ethical issues.
(2) All teachers in state schools must be registered with the GTCW.
(3) The General Principles Section of the Draft Professional Code published by the General Teaching Council for Wales earlier this year states that teachers should:
“…respect the rights and needs of pupils, colleagues and others with whom they come into professional contact having regard to gender, ethnicity, age, religion, special needs, sexual orientation and linguistic background.”
(4) The Christian Institute only objects to this aspect of the code.