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Newsline 3 July 2015

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Academy teaches “abstinence” as contraception and sex education in line with the “Maker’s Instructions”

Academy teaches “abstinence” as contraception and sex education in line with the “Maker’s Instructions”

News | Wed, 01 Jul 2015

A parent has raised serious concerns with the National Secular Society over the strongly religious nature of sex and relationships education at their child's school.

The sex and health education policy of the King's Academy in Middlesbrough warns pupils of the "consequences" if they ignore the "Maker's Instructions" about sex and relationships.

The taxpayer-funded school teaches "chastity outside of marriage", that "human life begins at conception" and that marriage is "the lifelong union between a man and a woman."

The school begins their policy statement on sex education by stating that they "believe that human beings are created to a Divine design".

The school says that "sexual information will be presented across the School Curriculum within a Biblical moral framework".

The Academy describes its ethos as based on "traditional Christian faith" and the school website says Jesus is "the perfect example of how to know God and love our neighbour as ourselves."

The mission statement for King's Academy says the school is "committed to upholding Biblical values, concepts and morality."

Noting that "other lifestyles exist", the school claims that delivery of SRE takes place in the "absence of judgemental dogma", but ends its policy with the teaching that abstinence is "the only 100% effective form of contraception".

Year 9 students have "special lectures" by "staff and medical practitioners" who present the "Biblical advice on chastity before marriage" and who give so-called "medical reasons" for abstinence before marriage.

The school covers "stereotyping and prejudice" about homosexuality but within the school's teaching "marriage is presented" as only between a man and a woman.

Religious education for Year 7 students covers different "gender roles" and "the institution of marriage".

The policy notes that parents have the "right to withdraw" their child from the programme, but given the pervasive nature of religion throughout the teaching, and that the Bible is presented as authoritative "across the School Curriculum" and throughout different subjects, it is unclear how realistic such a right to withdrawal actually is for parents who do not want their pupils taught SRE from a 'biblical' perspective.

The National Secular Society has urgently raised the issue with Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, noting our serious concerns about the provision of sex and relationships education by faith schools.

The parent who contacted the NSS about the school said: "This is why we need a fully secular education system for state-funded schools." The parent added that the school's policy needed to be "fully exposed" and that the public "has a right to know" what taxpayer-funded schools are teaching.

Stephen Evans, National Secular Society campaigns manager, said: "If the Government seriously wants to prepare young people for adult life it should ensure that all schools, including faith schools, free schools and academies, have a statutory duty to teach comprehensive and unbiased sex and relationships education.

"Any school which allows its religious ethos to take precedence over the health and wellbeing of its pupils is not worthy of public funding.

"Evidence suggests that abstinence based approaches can be worse than ineffective, leaving young girls more vulnerable to teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. LGBT children are also put at risk by the ability of faith schools to teach SRE within their religious framework.

"If schools are unable to distinguish between evidence-based fact and religious belief then there are serious questions as to whether they're capable of running schools in young people's best interests.

"Children's education shouldn't be based on dogma. Taxpayers should not be paying for the propagation of religious beliefs in state-funded schools."

Maintained secondary schools are required to provide basic sex education but academies and free schools do not have to follow the National Curriculum and so are not under the same statutory obligations.

In February 2015, MPs on the Education Select Committee recommended sex and relationship education become mandatory. The Government's response to the select committee report is expected soon.

In a submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the National Secular Society this week warned that some schools are failing to put the best interest of young people first and urged the Committee to recommend that UK legislation should require all state-funded schools to provide comprehensive age appropriate sex and relationships education with no permitted opt-outs.

Tim Montgomerie need not worry, secularism and tolerance go hand in hand

Tim Montgomerie need not worry, secularism and tolerance go hand in hand

Opinion | Thu, 02 Jul 2015

There's nothing "anti-Christian" about a society that sets about dismantling historic religious privilege, argues Stephen Evans.

In a Times opinion piece about the power of forgiveness – so poignantly expressed in Amazing Grace, the former slave trader turned preacher John Newton's hymn of redemption, Conservative Party activist Tim Montgomerie this week expressed fear about religion's dark side leading us to "eradicate all vestiges of religion" from society.

Montgomerie believes "secular fundamentalism" is making us a less tolerant society, and seems to suggest a return to "True Christianity" is our best hope of salvation.

To make his argument that Britain and America's post-Christian societies are at risk of slipping into "anti-Christian societies", Montgomerie cites three 'danger signs': the mounting campaign to close all faith schools; the questioning of Tim Farron's legitimacy to lead the Liberal Democrats; and the fear of the chief justice of the US Supreme Court that opponents of Christian morality "are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent" which means no charitable status for faith-based groups and no room for believers in the public square, argues Montgomerie.

It's disappointing to see the comment editor of The Times so lazily trotting out this oft- repeated Christian victimhood narrative – that a shift towards a secular society is creating a society hostile to Christians.

Let's look at each of these 'danger signs' in turn.

There does indeed seem to be some sort of growing consensus that publicly funded religious schooling might not be the way to go. But those that think that way aren't necessarily "anti-Christian". As I've previously argued, with Britain's religious landscape rapidly changing, an education policy that facilitates the segregation and education of children around their parent's religious identities seems misguided. Religious schooling represents a squandered opportunity to encourage social cohesion but is also problematic in principle; beyond objective education, schools shouldn't be used to promulgate religious beliefs.

Most would agree that parents should be free to bring up their children in accordance with their beliefs – but isn't it also reasonable to believe that the state shouldn't involve itself in religious inculcation? There's nothing 'anti-Christian' about a society that chooses to move towards a non-sectarian, inclusive system of education.

On the questioning of Tim Farron's legitimacy to lead the Liberal Democrats, this has nothing to do with him being a Christian per se (after all, Charles Kennedy was a "Christian of Catholic disposition"), but on whether his supernatural affiliations affect his objectivity.

Farron has supported 'conscience opt-outs' to allow civil registrars to refuse to carry out same-sex marriages, has called abortion "morally objectionable" and "always wrong", suggested pupils at faith schools should have less of an entitlement to objective sex education, and along with other members of the Christians in Parliament group, publicly criticised an Advertising Standards Agency ruling that that a Christian ministry could no longer claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions.

Speaking at a Parliamentary prayer breakfast, Farron also told fellow MPs "Christianity is not a bit true. It's either wrong or utterly compellingly true" – surely Liberal Democrats are right to be concerned about their potential leader using such absolutist rhetoric?

It's not "anti-Christian" to judge a politician on their words and deeds. The unreasonable position is to suggest his beliefs should be insulated from criticism simply because he's a Christian.

Montgomerie's final point about "no charitable status for faith-based groups" appears to be a complete straw man.

Who's arguing that faith-based groups can't be charities?

There was until recently an automatic presumption that all religious organisations provided a public benefit. Rightly, this is no longer the case. The advancement of religion is still deemed a charitable purpose, but today, religious groups wishing to partake in tax avoidance are expected to demonstrate that the way in which they carry out their aims is for the public benefit, as do all other charities.

If Christians feel victimised by having to explain to the Charity Commission how their organisation provides a public benefit, that's more of a reflection of how privileged they've historically been. Clearly, some Christians have become too comfortable with the status quo in Britain.

And that's the nub of the problem. The current Christian narrative of persecution and discrimination is obviously false by any objective measure, but in the minds of some Christians, the loss of religious privilege is clearly perceived an attack.

That's why secularists of all faiths and none need to calmly and repeatedly set out the case as to why the privileging of Christian beliefs – or any religious beliefs for that matter – is no longer reasonable or desirable in modern multi-faith (and increasingly no faith) Britain. Of course religious believers are as welcome in the public square as anyone else – it's just that they should no longer be allowed to dominate it or expect their religion to dictate the lives of others.

For example, the relatively small number of Christians opposed to same-sex couples having the right to marry are welcome to voice their opposition, robustly, if they want, but they can't seriously expect to be able to prevent gay couples from having equal rights, or to be able to pick and choose what kind of people they provide services to or which equality laws they follow.

In his column, Montgomerie asks us to consider who represents the true face of religion: is it the congregation of Emanuel Church, who so graciously offered their forgiveness to the white supremacist accused of slaying their fellow believers; or it is the suicide bombers and the people leaving Britain to fight for Isis?

This is of course a false dichotomy. There is no true face of religion. Personally, I'm quite taken with the mysticism of the Sufi poets, but not for a second would I argue this is Islam's 'true face'. Islam has many faces. Some quite beautiful, some very ugly.

Religion really is a personal matter for the believer. It's clearly not something most of us can agree on.

And that's why it's best kept out of public life. Religion needs to be engaged with to some extent – like the air, it's just there – but the days of basing public policy around it need to come to an end.

The idea that the slow erosion of Christian privilege is creating an "anti-Christian" society is nonsense. It's creating a more equal, tolerant, vibrant and pluralistic society in which the state leaves matters of faith, religion and belief to individuals.

But Montgomerie says our "moral priorities are messed up" and prescribes "True Christianity" to get us back on track. Fortunately, the days of Christians being able to impose Christian values on others appear to be numbered. Rejoicing in that doesn't make you any more "anti-Christian" than not wanting Islamic values imposed on you makes you "anti-Muslim". It just makes you a secularist.

Supreme Court legalises same-sex marriage across USA

Supreme Court legalises same-sex marriage across USA

News | Fri, 26 Jun 2015

In an historic case the US Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that same-sex couples have a legal right to marriage.

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