Catholic veto 'has no legal standing'

19th August 2005 at 01:00
An agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and local authorities reserving certain key teaching posts for Catholics approved by their local priest has no legal standing, an employment tribunal was told this week.

Teacher David McNab is claiming religious discrimination because he was excluded from consideration for a promoted post as principal teacher of pastoral care at a Catholic school because of his religious belief. Mr McNab, a maths teacher at St Paul's High in Glasgow, is an atheist.

He is the first to challenge the Church's influence over appointments at Catholic schools. His tribunal action was raised under new legislation banning discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, which came into effect in December 2003.

Glasgow City Council is defending its position on the grounds that religion is a genuine occupational requirement for the pastoral care post at St Paul's, as it is a Catholic school and the Catholic ethos has to be promoted. The council argues the post is "reserved" as a result of an agreement between the Church and Strathclyde Regional Council, its predecessor.

In his closing submission, Brian Napier, QC, representing Mr McNab, said:

"Glasgow City Council does not have an ethos based on religion or belief.

No local authority does."

He added: "Since denominational schools can function with non-Catholics responsible for many subject areas, why is it necessary for the post of acting principal teacher of pastoral care to be different?" he asked.

Referring to the "Strathclyde agreement", Mr Napier said: "The tribunal should conclude that, if it ever had standing or legitimacy in the past, it is a document which has no authority now in the light of the changed legal position after 2003. It is an inadequate basis for denying to the claimant the basic right to apply for a job without being disqualified because of his lack of religious beliefs."

Ian Truscott, QC, for Glasgow City Council, said the religious composition of the pupil population was "completely irrelevant because this is a school run in the interests of the Roman Catholic Church". Parents had a choice - they could send their children to a Catholic school or a non-denominational school.

Rod O'Donnell, the headteacher at St Paul's, spoke of a common approach across all pastoral care staff, with "no swaying from the Roman Catholic Church viewpoint".

The tribunal heard earlier that the Church could veto the appointment of Catholic teachers who had divorced and remarried or who sent their children to non-Catholic schools.

Mr McNab, aged 53, is seeking compensation for injury to feelings and potential loss of earnings. The tribunal will issue its judgment at a later date.

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