England’s Secretary for Education is investigating whether or not the organization which runs the country’s state-funded Catholic schools was in violation of the law when it solicited signatures from students on a petition against a proposed marriage equality bill.
According to an article in London’s Guardian newspaper, Michael Gove is responding to complaints that first came from PinkNews.co.uk, a British LGBT news source, concerning the Catholic Education Service’s (CES) distribution to high school students of a petition against marriage equality organized by the “Coalition for Marriage.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education explained the investigation:
“Schools have a responsibility under law to ensure children are insulated from political activity and campaigning in the classroom. . . . While faith schools, rightly, have the freedom to teach about sexual relations and marriage in the context of their own religion, that should not extend to political campaigning.”
A spokesperson for the CES, which is run by the nation’s bishops, defended the distribution of the petition:
“Catholic state schools have always been permitted by law to teach matters relating to sex and relationships education, including the importance of marriage, in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic church. . . .
“The Catholic church’s view on the importance of marriage is a religious view, not a political one.”
The PinkNews.co.uk article which broke the story about the petitions focused on an assembly at St. Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls, Carshalton, which informed students of the petition and where, according to one student, pupils
“from 11 to 18 years of age had been ‘encouraged’ to sign the anti-equality pledge by the school’s headmistress.”
A sixth form student described student reaction:
“In our assembly for the whole Sixth Form you could feel people bristling as she explained parts of the letter and encouraged us to sign the petition.
“She said things about gay marriage and civil partnerships being unnatural. It was just a really out-dated, misjudged and heavily biased presentation.
“A few of us in my year are buying Gay Pride badges to pin on our uniform and thought about staging a Stonewall coup by posting the ‘Some people are gay – get over it’ posters around school.
“Most importantly though, there are several people in my year who aren’t heterosexual – myself included – and I for one was appalled and actually disgusted by what they were encouraging.
“After all, that’s discrimination they were urging impressionable people to engage in, which is unacceptable.”
Terence Weldon, an astute commentator and blogger on Catholic LGBT issues, made the following point on QueeringTheChurch.com:
“The CES insistence that it is simply presenting church teaching is misleading. It is one thing to offer guidance on how to conduct their own lives, but quite another to encourage them to impose those views through the political process on people of other faiths, or of none. The letter sent to schools, and the encouragement to support the petition against gay marriage, is a direct intervention in a political process, and is unacceptable.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry