Catholic Education Service Under Investigation After Gay Marriage Petition
The Catholic Education Service (CES) is being investigated by education officials after it emerged that nearly 400 schools were asked to encourage their pupils to sign an anti-gay marriage petition.
The petition, organised by the Coalition for Marriage, was circulated to state-funded Catholic high schools by the CES earlier this year. A letter which has been read in parishes around the country promoting traditional, heterosexual marriage was also sent to the schools for distribution.
Claims have arisen that this action broke impartiality rules, as schools in the UK are not legally permitted to promote political arguments. The CES denies breaking the law, however, stating that their stance on gay marriage is based on religious rather than political belief.
In addition to facing accusations of political indoctrination, the CES may also be examined to determine whether their action breaks parts of the Equality Act. The British Humanist Association has voiced concerns that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pupils at schools in which the petition was promoted will have felt subjected to discrimination and belittled by the content.
The headmistress at St Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls is reported to have described gay marriage as unnatural when addressing her pupils about the petition in an assembly. One student remarked that the presentation was severely biased, supporting the assertion of gay community website PinkNews that students have not been educated in arguments that support civil marriage for homosexual couples.
To date, almost 470,000 people have signed the Coalition for Marriage petition, which condemns the government’s plans to allow same-sex couples to marry. The CES has stated that children under 16 are not permitted to sign the petition and that this will be reinforced to the Catholic schools with whom they have corresponded.
As Education Secretary Michael Gove commences his investigation into the matter, the CES maintains that they did not act illegally. The Department of Education (DoE) has stated that, while religious schools are entitled to teach children values within their own tradition, in the school setting children should be ‘insulated’ from political pressure. The CES and the DoE will meet shortly, with the DoE stating that it wishes to establish the full facts as early as is possible.