Editor's comment

7th September 2007 at 01:00
When David McNab won his challenge to reserve posts in denominational schools for teachers whose religious belief and character had been approved by Roman Catholic bishops, he opened up a Pandora's box for auth-orities. Glasgow City Council believes it has "hermetically sealed" itself from future legal challenges on discrimination grounds. As employer, it will advertise a post in a Catholic school, draw up a short-leet of applicants based on normal criteria of qualifications and experience, and select the best person. It will inform the successful applicant that he or she has the job subject to Church approval. This may look like buck-passing, but to the council it creates a necessary legal separation from the thorny issue of ap-proval. It passes responsibility for approving the moral worth of a candidate to the Cath-olic Church, where it should rightly sit, since it is the Church which insists on scrutiny of religious belief and character.

Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, argues that the bishops rarely withhold approval. That, however, does not mean the situation will not arise of a teacher falling at the last hurdle because the Church does not believe his or her religious belief or character is compatible with the Catholic ethos. Then we may find Scottish courts having to test two potentially conflicting Acts against each other the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 and the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. Arguments over the suitability of divorced or gay applicants, or single mothers, could be played out in court. But the danger is that teachers who would previously have applied for non-sensitive posts, because approval was "deemed", will exclude themselves. That might be on a matter of principle or because they are unwilling to subject their character to scrutiny. Either way, we are entering uncharted territory.

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