In advance of the publication of the responses to a consultation paper from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority on values in education,Dr Nick Tate, its chief executive, said he was being accused of bad faith by the group that had originally campaigned for greater emphasis on marriage in the document.
At a seminar organised by the Inter-faith Network, Dr Tate said opponents of the draft were imagining conspiracies and creating a climate of cynicism and distrust.
The paper came under fire for failing to stress the role of marriage. There was a small group on the 150-member forum which prepared the paper that had wanted to use the statement of agreed values to insist on chastity before marriage.
Dr Tate told the seminar: "The whole storm in a teacup about the consultation is in itself a reflection, I fear, of the moral climate in which we operate. There is such a climate of cynicism and distrust that far too many people assume the worst of those with whom they disagree. By demonising their opponents, they excuse their own unethical behaviour."
He also rejected criticism that the draft is not explicitly anti-abortion.He said: "It would have been quite inappropriate to have asked the forum to evaluate the various moral codes that different people would like to persuade society to adopt and then decide which one it preferred. The forum therefore cannot be criticised for failing to insist, for example, that valuing human life means opposing abortion or that a family unit based on a couple who have been through a wedding ceremony is superior to one based on a couple who have not."
As well as taking on those in favour of a stronger line on marriage, Dr Tate condemned the views of Dr John Marenbon, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He accused Dr Marenbon of dismissing the idea of a wider community.
In a pamphlet for the Politeia think-tank, Dr Marenbon suggests that the paper is misguided in its attempt to devise a basis for the promotion of spiritual and moral development in schools.
According to Dr Marenbon, the proposals serve only to harm academic study and usurp parents' role in the moral upbringing of their children and do not provide children with either precise rules of behaviour or reasoned answers to problems of moral choice.
He writes: "SCAA's intrusion into the field of morality and spirituality will bring only harm: harm not just to academic education but to the teaching of morals and religion itself. It will hinder instruction in these areas by debasing the teaching of morality and religion at school and by upsetting the delicate arrangements which up until now, have recognised the fundamental role of parents in the moral upbringing of their children."
The problem for schools, writes Dr Marenbon, is that the status of personal and social education can only be raised at the expense of major subjects such as maths and history or - where taught - Latin and Greek.
Dr Tate insisted such views would mean an acceptance that there are no common values worth speaking of.
A Moral Maze: government values in education is available from Politeia, 28 Charing Cross Road, London WC2 ODB.