The Cornerstone Adoption and Fostering case: chalk one up for the good guys

10 July 2020

The Christian Legal Centre’s Roger Kiska comments on the outcome in the case of the Cornerstone Adoption and Fostering Agency.

Back in May we published an article about an important case before the High Court involving Cornerstone, a Christian fostering and adoption service which, with the support of the Christian Institute, was judicially reviewing an unfavourable Ofsted report. That report claimed that Cornerstone discriminates against same-sex individuals and non-Christians by operating a faith-based charity which facilitates fostering and adoption relationships exclusively for Evangelical Christians.

In that article we told you about all of the amazing work Cornerstone does and how successful it has been in doing it. In its 20-year history, Cornerstone has facilitated the transition to adoption for nearly 80 percent of the children it has placed. Not once during that entire 20-year history had even a single adoption broken down. There is no question that because of Cornerstone, not only is England a better place, but countless children have had their lives enriched because of their efforts.

Cornerstone declares victory

This past Tuesday, the High Court ruled in Cornerstone’s favour. As a result of the ruling, Cornerstone is allowed to continue to exclusively recruit evangelical carers. The case also sets an important precedent in how the Equality Act should be protecting the rights of religious organisations, rather than limiting them.

One of the central issues involved in the case dealt with how Schedule 23 of the Equality Act 2010 applies to Christian organisations who work within the public square. Ofsted argued that once an organisation enters the public square, that they should keep their beliefs to themselves. By rejecting this position, the High Court has ironically made it appear that Ofsted should be the one keeping its beliefs about faith organisations out of the public square.

Given the increasing hostility of culture towards Biblical views on intimate moral issues, and the often-attempted wielding of anti-discrimination legislation as a sword to undermine religious exercise, the Cornerstone ruling is indeed a welcome one.

Not all good news

That being said, the court’s technical finding of fact that the exemption did not apply to sexual orientation because Cornerstone worked under contract with the local authority, means that the exemption could not be extended to require carers to abide by its Christian beliefs on appropriate sexual conduct. Nevertheless, this is very much an appealable matter and Cornerstone has already said that it is considering a further challenge on this point.

The difficult task of being faithful and staying in business

We should be grateful for the work of organisations like Cornerstone. They provide an invaluable service and do it well. Despite their laudable charitable aims and their successful track record, their biggest organisational obstacles to date have been from the very authorities which should be praising them, rather than contending against them.

In 2008 they were contacted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) over their recruitment policy. This followed the well-publicised closure of most Christian adoption agencies in the United Kingdom because of the 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations. Cornerstone was able to satisfy the EHRC that their recruitment policy of evangelical Christian families served their charitable purposes and was also a key to their success in maintaining such an impressive fostering track record. In 2010, Cornerstone had further issues, this time with the Charity Commission, which questioned why the organisation required its carers to be Christian. They were also able to satisfy the Commission that their charitable aims were consistent with exceptions laid out in the Equality Act 2010 for faith-based organisations. Yet the battles would only continue.

Ofsted’s issues with Cornerstone began in 2016 when the charity applied to become registered as a Voluntary Adoption Agency. Ofsted claimed that Cornerstone discriminated on grounds of religion or belief by excluding non-Christians, as well as on the basis of sexual orientation. Despite giving a full explanation, citing the aforementioned exception to the Equality Act for religious organisations, Cornerstone’s application remains outstanding.

This week’s High Court ruling represents Cornerstone’s second significant brush up with Ofsted, leaving one to wonder if it will ever end for Cornerstone.

We Can Do Better by our Faith Charities

Cornerstone is one of many charities which constantly are dealing with existential threats to their ethos simply for trying to remain faithful. One does have to genuinely wonder why public authorities have an obsession with undermining, and even dismantling, well-meaning organisations who provide such important services for society at large.

The High Court ruling gives Ofsted yet another black eye for its heavy-handed dealings with Christian ethos organisations. Yet this has not seemed to deter them from their ‘equality at all costs’ agenda. They would do well to remember that Cornerstone’s successes, and those of so many other hard-working Christian organisations, are the successes of this nation as a whole. It’s time to stop with the self-inflicting wounds. We can do better. Our nation indeed deserves better.

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