The Welsh Government is investigating whether Catholic schools have broken UK laws by having pupils as young as eleven sign a petition against legalizing civil gay marriage.
This evening, a spokeperson for the Welsh Government, which is responsible for matters such as education in the principality said that the Welsh Education minister Leighton Andrews has asked his officials to investigate. They told the BBC: “The education minister has seen the press stories and has asked officials to investigate.
“All schools must ensure issues are taught in a way that does not subject pupils to discrimination.”
This follows a Pink News report that a headmistress at a London school, St Philoena’s Catholic High School for Girls, had according to a student there “encouraged” students as young as eleven to sign an anti-equality petition following a presentation on the religious ideas about marriage.
The Catholic Education Service (CES), responsible for the handling of hundreds of state funded schools, then confirmed to Pink News that it had written to more than 359 Catholic secondary schools (all state funded) in England and Wales and asked them to draw attention to an anti-marriage equality letter written by senior archbishops which spoke of the “duty” to preserve “the true meaning of marriage.”
The CES also confirmed that it had asked schools to draw attention to a petition against marriage equality, confirming that the all-age presentation indeed ended with a slide urging kids to sign the petition.
The British Humanist Association, which has campaigned heavily against state-backed religious affiliated schools, has already said it believes this action breaks a number of laws. Education Campaigner Richy Thompson is quoted as saying:
“We welcome the announcement that the Welsh government are investigating any potential law-breaking, and will offer to work with them on this matter. In the meantime, we are still interested in taking on a legal case, and hope to find a pupil who is willing to work with us on this.
“It is undoubtedly the case that the Catholic Education Service’s actions have victimised many pupils. We do not think such behaviour is an acceptable part of society.”
However, the Catholic Education Service believes that it has done nothing wrong, issuing a statement saying:
“We reject the suggestion that Catholic schools have acted illegally. The Equality Act 2010 applies to all schools and we are fully supportive of the Act. It is central to Catholic teaching that all individuals should be treated with respect and dignity.
“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.”
Some commentators have noted that signing a petition designed to be sent to the UK Government on the marriage equality issue most decidedly is a political act, while recruiting children for the task on state time may in fact have broken several regulations.
This controversy may also add fuel to the fire over the current debate as to whether faith schools should be operating in the UK at all.