Church bids for sexual freedom

16th June 2006 at 01:00
Anglicans insist that their schools be allowed to teach that homosexuality is wrong. Graeme Paton reports

Faith schools have demanded exemption from new equality laws in order to carry on teaching that homosexuality is a sin.

The Church of England is among religious groups which have written to the Government calling for dispensation from the proposed laws which would make it illegal to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation.

The Government's women and equality unit is consulting over the regulations, which are intended to build on the recent equality Act. The unit is led by Ruth Kelly, former education secretary and a committed Catholic, who has been criticised for refusing to deny that homosexuality was sinful. Among the possibilities being considered are that schools could be exempted from the regulations.

At the moment, many faith schools make children aware of different sexual practices, but underline that anything other than heterosexuality is a sin.

In a submission to the unit, the CofE said that it would not wish to discriminate against pupils or parents on grounds of sexual orientation in the context of admissions or in disciplinary procedures. But it insisted that schools should be free to teach that homosexuality is at odds with the Bible.

"Imposing a duty not to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation in ... the curriculum would again seem to expose them (schools) to the possibility of legal challenge," it said.

The CofE said that any requirement to give equal prominence to homosexuality or bisexuality would be "incompatible with the schools'

ethos".

The Association of Christian Teachers said that "faith schools should be free to decide what is taught and how it is taught in line with the faith-basis of that school".

Rupert Kaye, its chief executive, said: "They should not - and cannot - be required by law to show mutual respect to individuals or organisations whose beliefs or lifestyle are anathema."

However, equality campaigners oppose exemptions for faith schools. Andrew Copson, education officer at the British Humanist Association, said:

"Society increasingly recognises discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation as wrong. If it's wrong, it's wrong for everyone, with no opt-out for those whose homophobia is religious rather than secular."

Consultation on the proposals were due to end this week. See www.dti.gov.ukfilesfile27078.pdf

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