U.K. Government Defends Catholic Schools’ ’Homophobic’ Booklet

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Friday February 24, 2012

Michael Gove, Britain's secretary of state for education, said that Catholic schools have the right to educate students about the Church's teaching on homosexuality.

Gove defended the Church after receiving a complaint from the general secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Brendan Barber. The TUC is a European organization that represents 6.2 million people who belong to unions. Barber wrote to Gove and said that the "homophobic material" that is being used in some classrooms goes against the Equality Act, the Catholic Herald reported.

Barber took issue with a booklet called "Pure Manhood: How to Become the Man God Wants You to Be," which says that "the homosexual act is disordered, much like contraceptive sex between heterosexuals" and "both acts are directed against God's natural purpose for sex - babies and bonding." The text was provided by Jason Evert, a Catholic apologist, and is supposed to encourage "chastity in accordance with church teaching."

Gove responded to Barber and said that the content of the materials are not covered by the Equality Act.

"The education provisions of the Equality Act which prohibit discrimination against individuals based on their protected characteristics (including their sexual orientation) do not extend to the content of the curriculum," Gove said. "Any materials used in sex and relationship education lessons, therefore, will not be subject to the discrimination provisions of the act. If a school conveyed its beliefs in a way that involved haranguing, harassing or berating a gay or lesbian pupil or group of pupils then this would be unacceptable in any circumstances and is likely to constitute unlawful discrimination."

Barber then responded to Gove's statements in the British newspaper, the Observer and said, "having written to the Education Secretary to express our worry about the distribution of homophobic literature in faith schools, his lack of concern is very alarming."

Neil Addison, a Catholic barrister who specializes in religion and equality law, supported Gove.

"The Equality Act says that nothing in the relevant part of the Act 'applies to anything done in connection with the content of the curriculum' so the allegation of a breach of the Equality Act is bunkum," he said. "Also, what has this got to do with the TUC? Since when did it become the role of the TUC to act as censor for what is taught in schools? The TUC and gay rights campaigners should remember that freedom of speech is a two-way process. It means defending the rights of others to express views they may disagree with."

The TUC's LGBT section of its website says that LGBT members should be protected from prejudice in schools and colleges.

"The Equality Act 2010 ... has achieved full legal equality for LGBT people with all other groups, with a few exceptions on which campaigning will continue. The public sector equality duty introduced by the Equality Act, the TUC believes, offers a powerful lever to assist public bodies to challenge continued prejudice and hostility in areas where it remains endemic such as in schools and colleges, and in sports like football. The TUC is working with unions and allies such as Schools Out to challenge this unacceptable state of affairs."