Legislative Scrutiny: Equality Bill - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Christian Education Europe


    (i) Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the ECHR allow for educational diversity in line with parents' religious and philosophical convictions. This diversity can only be provided by distinctive schools which embody such convictions and this distinctiveness is only possible if such schools can preferentially admit pupils from families with their beliefs. Hence the current exemptions should continue.(ii) Given the known diversity of belief and practice, to conform to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the ECHR different curricula will be needed. To prevent suppression of diverse beliefs, the current exemption of these curricula should continue.

    (iii) In the tolerant, diverse and pluralist society of Britain there will not be agreement or conformity; but dissent, disagreement, disapproval or occasionally offence are not the same as discrimination, and Articles 9 and 10 of the ECHR maintain the right to free practice and expression of belief.

  1.  Christian Education Europe (CEE) is a limited company with a board of five directors. My role is as a consultant on home education issues and also legal matters. The company has four parts:

    — The European Academy for Homeschooling (TEACH) which has about 800 families enrolled. It offers regional and national support, parent training, events and conferences and test moderation. Membership of TEACH confers eligibility for the International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE).

    — Schools. There are some 59 schools with an annually renewable contract. CEE provides training for school staff, an annual Assistance Visit, an annual Educators Conference and access to the ICCE.

    — Curriculum. CEE distributes the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum, with discounts for contracted schools and TEACH member families. Originating in America, ACE is currently used in 7,000 schools and many home schools in over 100 countries. CEE has an ongoing programme of producing UK alternatives to supplement areas of the curriculum which have a specifically American bias. CEE is part of the ACE Global Support team.

    — European Student Convention (ESC). This is an annual four-day residential Convention for students from the UK and Europe to meet and compete in over 120 events in eight categories. Success at ESC entitles the student to attend and compete at the International Student Convention held annually in the USA.

  2.  The first issue is whether we are content with the provisions of the School Admissions Code and the Equality Act 2006 which permit schools to prefer one applicant to another on the grounds of their religion. These provisions are found in Section 50 of the Equality Act 2006 which allows schools of a religious character, or with a religious ethos, or schools conducted in the interests of a church or denominational body, to preferentially admit children of that faith.

  3.  The first point we wish to make is that it is extremely unlikely that anyone not of the faith would apply to send their children to an independent Christian school using an explicitly Christian curriculum. The schools and home educating organisation of CEE offer a Christian alternative for Christian families and hence need to be able to preferentially accept the children from Christian families. To maintain a credible Christian education, a school requires the support and agreement of the parent, which implies selection of those families which will provide that support. The rights of those not seeking a Christian education are not affected, nor are they denied access to other educational provision. A Christian education here means an education based on the conviction that Christianity is true.

  4.  Another issue for many is the tendency in some circles to confuse neutral with secular or non-religious. The Norwegian educationalist Signe Sandsmark, writing in 2000 said "Christian teachers, and believers within other theistic faiths, are supposed not to talk about God in a way that implies He exists... But what, then, should the agnostic, liberal humanists try to say, and avoid saying, if they want to be neutral, not to reveal their own view?" Secular or non-religious is not neutral, but is a worldview and value system in itself. In the pluralist and diverse society of Britain, it has a place, but should not be the only option available in education.

  5.  Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) asserts a right not to be denied education. It also maintains that the parents have a right to such education as being in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions. This can only be achieved by a diversity of provision allowing different distinctives in education and school ethos. Maintaining the distinctiveness of the education provided can only be effectively achieved by ensuring that most, if not all, pupils in a school come from families which accept and support this distinctiveness, and this does not deny others access to other educational provision.

  6.  Further, Article 9 of the ECHR maintains the right to freedom of thought, religion and conscience; it also maintains the freedom to manifest religion in worship, teaching and practice. Our experience is that there are Christians who consider giving their children a Christian education part of the practice and observance of their religion, and seek to exercise the right to practice their religion by home educating or sending their children to an independent Christian school which supports their belief. This in no way denies access to other educational provision for others.

  7.  Regarding the continued exemption of curriculum from the Equality Act. Clearly, the most important issue in a school is what is taught—what the curriculum lays down as needing to be known. This involves not only what is positively taught by commission, but also what is negatively taught by omission. Now, Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the ECHR maintains the right of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions. This clearly involves the content of the curriculum, both positively and negatively. As Sir Walter Moberly, vice chancellor of Manchester University, noted in his 1949 work The Crisis in The University, "If in your organisation, your curriculum, and your communal customs and ways of life, you leave God out, you teach with tremendous force that, for most people and at most times, He does not count."

  8.  In England, the diversity of belief and religious and philosophical convictions in the sense given by the Equality Act 2006 need and require a diversity of curricula to provide for the rights of parents to ensure that their children are educated in accordance with their own religious and philosophical convictions, as no one curriculum could accommodate the diversity that exists. This diversity requires protecting from attempts by those who disagree with one or the other religious or philosophical conviction to suppress any curriculum they disagree with.

  9.  Article 9 of the ECHR means that no one religious or philosophical conviction has the right to suppress any other religious or philosophical conviction. This applies even if the adherents of one religion or belief consider the tenets of another discriminatory, as, for example, an adherent of a religion or belief which allows polygamy may consider Christian teaching on monogamous marriage discriminatory. This is not a reason for suppressing a Christian curriculum which asserts that monogamous marriage is to be followed. Other examples will no doubt spring to mind. The exemption for curriculum from the Equality Act 2006 prevents attempts to suppress any curriculum which provides an education in accordance with a distinctive religious and philosophical belief.

  10.  The second paragraph of Article 2, Protocol 1 supplies reasons for applying legal limitations to the practice of a belief. These are the interests of public safety, the protection of public order, health or morals and to protect the rights of others. These reasons for limitation of the practice of a belief apply to the behaviour of the believer, not the behaviour of those who disagree, so that disorder generated by a belief's opponents is not a reason for limiting the belief, but a reason for limiting the opponents.

  11.  Other issues. The Guidance for Schools published by the Government refers a number of times to "diversity"' and also "diversity of provision". Conservative evangelical Christians have been a part of that diversity in this country for more than 400 years and remain part of the diversity of British life, and Christian schools remain part of the diversity of provision acknowledged by the Guidance. The Guidance also speaks of "tolerance", that is, not insisting on agreement or conformity, but allowing ideas and behaviour which you do not agree with to remain a full part of national culture. This clearly allows, even recommends, tolerance of Christian and other faith schools.

  12.  It is inevitable, in a pluralist and diverse society such as in Britain, that free expression of belief will mean dissent, disagreement and disapproval, as well some being offended. Dissent, disagreement and disapproval, however, are not discrimination. Articles 9 and 10 of the ECHR maintain the right to believe or change belief, and also to freely teach and practice it, and also to express it publicly and freely. For example, Professor Richard Dawkins can discuss religious belief as a "virus of the mind" without discrimination occurring; and therefore a believer can be equally critical of Professor Dawkins' ideas, or those of another belief or practice, without discrimination occurring. Freedom of expression can occasionally mean people are offended: but again, being offended does not mean being discriminated against.


  We are convinced the current exemptions work well in preventing discrimination against differing, dissenting or minority beliefs and should continue.

January 2009

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