Ofsted to High Court: ‘Christian groups do not belong in the public square’

14 May 2020

The Christian Legal Centre’s Roger Kiska comments on ­­­­­­­how Christian charity is being squeezed out of the public space.

Last week, as oral arguments were being heard by the High Court, Christian Concern commented on the case of Cornerstone Adoption and Fostering Services. The case, which is being supported by the Christian Institute, arose as a result of an unpublished report from Ofsted requiring the small Evangelical fostering agency to either abandon its Christian ethos or to cease providing fostering services.

It is uncontested that Cornerstone provides a valuable public service, and that they have done so in an incredibly successful manner. The Northwest England based charity recruits evangelical foster carers to provide loving and stable homes for children with complex needs; facilitating the transition to adoption for nearly 80 percent of the children it has placed. In its 20-year history, not once has there been an adoption breakdown between its foster carers and the children involved.

Radical Secularism Takes Aim at Christianity

So why would a charity which has been so successful in providing vulnerable children permanent and stable family lives find itself in the proverbial cross hairs of Ofsted? According to Ofsted’s lawyer in the case, Sir James Eadie QC, it is because Christian organisations should not bring their beliefs with them into the public square.

This response might be jaw-droppingly shocking if not for the growing regularity of such anti-Christian bias appearing in high profile cases. Counsel for the University of Sheffield, for example, argued in the Christian Concern supported Felix Ngole case, that Christians who express conservative Biblical views on same-sex relationships, even in a Bible study, might not be professionally fit to serve as social workers. In another Christian Concern supported case, that being the criminal defence of street preacher Mike Overd, the Bristol Prosecutor suggested that preaching certain passages from the King James Bible could amount to a criminal offence in modern Britain. In yet another Christian Concern supported case, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (which itself took legal issue with Cornerstone in 2008) elsewhere submitted that it was supportive of a ban on Biblically conservative foster parenting because such parents might ‘infect’ the children in their care with Christian moral views.

Why This Matters

Ostensibly, Ofsted’s position is that religious belief does not belong in the public square. This is a problem of sizable proportion. Ofsted also serves as the inspectorate for a large number of faith schools. The regulator has been criticised for bringing these same biases into the inspection of Christian schools, going so far as to target conservative Christian schools for downgrading and closure. The line between religious illiteracy and animus is a fine one, and the consequences are serious.

Christian organisations provide an essential social welfare net in this country which includes work for the homeless, the addicted, the lonely and disenfranchised, the poor, prison rehabilitation, education, medical outreach and much, much more. These ministries are successful because the ones doing the work are doing it for faith rather than profit. In fact, there is an authenticity to this work which money can’t buy.

As counsel for Cornerstone so eloquently put it during oral arguments last week, Ofsted misses the mark when they call fostering a secular activity; for Cornerstone, he argued, fostering “is the fulfilment of a religious duty.”

As the former Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Thomas Reece, rightly warned, policy and practice is increasingly eroding freedom of religion to the point where it becomes only a freedom to worship. In the Cornerstone case this could not be any clearer. Ofsted seems to be arguing that freedom of religion should be ghettoised behind the four walls of a church. It is indeed bold, albeit ignorant, to demand of Christians that they separate their motivation from their charitable work. In fact, requiring Christians to actively violate their religious beliefs as a cost of doing business has but one effect; that is to mortally wound the social welfare structure of this nation.

The importance of Christian charity

As a matter of rule of law, Christians should enjoy the same rights and freedoms as everyone else in British society. They should not be forced to violate their consciences in order to live out their ministry work. Such a pre-condition to being in the public square is not only perverse, its against the law. In a country which prides itself on tolerance and equality, Ofsted has been ignorant to its own discriminatory treatment of Cornerstone. Amanda Spielman might call it muscular secularism but I call it old fashioned small-mindedness.

We need Christian charity in this nation. Britain is a better place for it. If religious freedom has any real value, it means that organisations like Cornerstone should be allowed to flourish in accordance with the same ethos that has driven them to perform their amazing work in the first place. Indeed, a great deal more hangs in the balance of the High Court’s judgment than just the fate of a single fostering service. The Reverend Martin Luther King summed it up beautifully in the Birmingham Manifesto, when he wrote that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

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