Someone should ask Solomon

17th March 2006 at 00:00
The McNab tribunal ruling (page three) has opened a Pandora's box of potential troubles. Its finding that an atheist teacher in a Catholic school suffered religious discrimination when he was not allowed to apply for a pastoral care post appears fairly clear-cut. It means that education authorities should not be advertising "reserved" posts which in effect are deemed so sensitive in a denominational setting that only Catholics can fill them.

That opens the door to a number of posts in Catholic schools which have hitherto been shut to non-Catholics. It also tears up the 1991 Strathclyde Region agreement upon which the practice of reserving certain posts has been based. What is unclear from the tribunal's judgment is whether each post in a denominational school will have to be assessed to determine whether it contains elements that would make Catholicism a "genuine occupational requirement" under the law.

Having scrutinised the duties of a pastoral care teacher, the tribunal concluded that the bulk of the job contained no requirement for the teacher to be a Roman Catholic - and the small element that might could be undertaken by someone who did "witness the faith". Might the same argument be applied to a headteacher of a Catholic school?

Another potential minefield is the tribunal's finding that the Roman Catholic Church must carry out the same level of "approval" procedures on non-Catholics as Catholics applying for posts in denominational schools.

The notion that one church should vet the comportment of someone from another faith, or even no faith at all, has always been a delicate one.

Again, sensitivities may be wounded in the process. If the Church "disapproves" of an applicant, must it give reasons and could they, too, be subjected to the scrutiny of the law? We live in interesting times.

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