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I was sacked as a school chaplain for my Christian beliefs

When I delivered a sermon criticising wokeness, I was dismissed from my job and reported to Prevent.

Bernard Randall

Topics Free Speech Identity Politics UK

‘Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.’ So said Lord Justice Sedley in defence of the right to offend some 20-odd years ago. His words have done little to halt the erosion of free speech in the intervening decades, something I have learnt to my own personal cost.

In 2019, I lost my job as a school chaplain at Trent College, a private school in Derbyshire, and was secretly reported to Prevent, the UK’s counter-extremism programme, by the school’s headmaster. This was all because I twice delivered a sermon in 2019 entitled ‘Competing ideologies’. In the sermon, I expressed approval for the Church of England’s teaching on marriage, as well as a mainstream Christian understanding of the reality of biological sex and the non-reality of gender identity. Several pupils and staff members subsequently complained to the head.

After my sacking, I sued Trent College for discrimination, but lost the case at an employment tribunal earlier this year. My appeal is now in, and I’m confident of prevailing in the end.

As a direct result of the employment tribunal’s judgement, the school’s head referred me to the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) and the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). The TRA has not taken the case forward but a decision from the DBS is pending. The DBS could potentially bar me from ever working in a school or from any job working with under-18s. Clearly, challenging woke ideology can come at a severe cost.

Sadly, this isn’t a surprise. We know that the woke ideology has thoroughly infected our schools, especially the independent sector. Private schools seem to think that by claiming to be ‘on the right side of history’ they can hide their elite privilege. But as my own troubles show, wokeness hasn’t just captured our schools – it has captured the civil service, too.

The Teaching Regulation Agency, which is run by the Department for Education, refrained from pursuing a case against me, but it did produce an incredible charge sheet. It effectively said that it could constitute professional misconduct to criticise the views of LGBT+ activists.

The DBS, meanwhile, is minded to put me on the ‘children’s barred list’ for ‘causing significant upset’ and ‘emotional harm to pupils and staff’. It defines ’emotional harm’ as the ‘ill-treatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development’.

To suggest that delivering a Christian sermon in a Christian school qualifies as ‘ill-treatment’ is quite a stretch. Surely this is precisely what should be expected in such a school. Besides, having your thoughts challenged for 10 minutes is hardly likely to have ‘severe and persistent adverse effects’ on anyone. As the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Handyside vs the United Kingdom in 1976, having our thoughts challenged, even in offensive, shocking or disturbing ways, is a necessary part of a democratic society and a ‘basic condition… for the development of every man’. In short, being challenged by a sermon, or indeed by any speech, is good for us.

The claim that I have caused significant upset rests on one anonymous email from one pupil. That my career can be ended on the basis of a single teenager’s disagreement with my beliefs seems very wrong, no matter how sincere that disagreement may be. After all, children can be upset by all sorts of things – by disappointing marks or by not being picked for a sports team. Claiming to be upset should not give anyone the authority to silence or punish others.

Perhaps the DBS thinks that Christian beliefs are inherently harmful and can never be expressed? If so, then this is surely a breach of civil-service impartiality. It would suggest the DBS cannot countenance the possibility that a belief system other than its own might have any sort of validity or might be held by reasonable people.

My case is just a symptom of a broader crisis afflicting our liberal democracy. Freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are being eroded away. If we fail to stand up for liberty, we cannot be surprised when it is taken away from us.

Bernard Randall is an ordained Church of England chaplain.

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Topics Free Speech Identity Politics UK

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