UK Education Office Argues Christians Should Limit Their Beliefs to Church

Christians
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The United Kingdom’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) argued before the High Court that Christian groups should not allow their religious beliefs to influence their professional activities.

After an inspection and review in March 2019, Ofsted, a non-ministerial department of the British government, downgraded the Christian-run Cornerstone Adoption and Fostering Service from “good” to “requires improvement” because it only places children with married Evangelical Christian couples.

Challenged by Cornerstone before the High Court, Ofsted lawyer Sir James Eadie said that Ofsted “does not prevent Cornerstone and their carers manifesting their religious beliefs as they wish – outside the professional sphere,” adding that fostering “is essentially a secular act.”

An unpublished brief by Ofsted allegedly demanded that Cornerstone abandon its religious ethos.

In response, Cornerstone lawyer Mr Aidan O’Neill asked whether the regulator was claiming that “religious acts only happen in your place of worship and as soon as you come into the public square it cannot be categorised as a religious act.”

“They are failing in their duty of neutrality,” Mr O’Neill continued, “not appreciating that evangelical Christianity in particular, which founds itself on scripture passages, includes the injunction to feed the hungry, and carry out in practice what you believe.”

“So don’t say to me fostering is a secular act,” O’Neill said. “When carried out by Cornerstone it is the fulfilment of a religious duty.”

In failing in its duty as a state body to be neutral as regards the expression of religious belief, in relation to Cornerstone “Ofsted has acted unlawfully,” he argued.

O’Neill also told the Court that Ofsted had misapplied equality law and abused its regulatory function in issuing its report, suggesting that the regulator had “invented” discrimination by Cornerstone in order to fabricate a case against it.

“This is a hypothetical dispute in which there are no actual victims,” O’Neill said, since Ofsted has “not identified any individuals who face discrimination under Cornerstone’s work.”

“You cannot set up straw men and say ‘if they were to do this to them then this would be unlawful.’” He noted.

The Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP) came out in support of Cornerstone. Following the hearing, NAFP chief executive Harvey Gallagher said he has “no reason to doubt Cornerstone NE’s ethical base. In fact, I have found the agency to be open-minded and accepting.”

“The contribution and commitment that I have seen them make to fostering (and adoption) is important and meets a particular need. If they were to be lost to the sector, this would be a real loss for children,” Gallagher said.

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