An ordained Church of England (CofE) chaplain has launched legal action against the headteacher of the school that sacked and secretly reported him to the government’s Counter-Terrorism watchdog for a moderate sermon he gave on identity politics.
Rev. Dr Bernard Randall, 51, has made the claim against the headteacher of Trent College, Mr Bill Penty, for victimisation, continued harassment, and discrimination on the grounds of his Christian beliefs.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, the action follows what has been described as a ‘malicious’ referral made by Mr Penty to the Teaching Regulation Authority (TRA) aimed at barring the former Cambridge college chaplain from the profession.
In 2019, Dr Randall was sacked by Trent College, an independent school with a CofE ethos, for a moderate sermon he gave that reflected the CofE’s teaching on marriage in the school’s CofE chapel.
The sermon encouraged debate on identity politics and told pupils that they did not have to agree with LGBT teaching.
Dr Randall had given the sermon after discredited LGBT group, Educate and Celebrate, were invited into Trent College to help embed an extreme gender identity agenda into the moral fabric of the school, including the nursery.
Educate and Celebrate’s leader, Ellie Barnes, got staff to chant ‘smash heteronormativity’ during a staff training day.
With full cooperation from the Bishop of Derby, Rt. Rev. Libby Lane, and her diocesan safeguarding team, Dr Randall was removed from his role as chaplain at the school. An investigation by the local diocese followed with a risk assessment concluding that Dr Randall was a ‘risk to children’ and that the Bible and the CofE’s own teaching on human sexuality is ‘a risk factor’.
Dr Randall has been blacklisted by the CofE as a result, and thereby prevented from giving a public sermon since 2020.
Dr Randall took Trent College to a full employment tribunal. However, in February 2023, a judge ruled against his legal claims.
Dr Randall is now appealing this ruling.
Following the judgment, headteacher Bill Penty referred Dr Randall to the TRA, calling for an investigation and misconduct hearing which could have led to him being barred from the teaching profession indefinitely.
Mr Penty signed the referral which said: ‘I would like the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) to investigate the above allegation of serious misconduct potentially leading to the imposition of a prohibition order’.
It was also revealed that Mr Penty referred Dr Randall to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which would see Dr Randall banned from working with children altogether, and even working as a vicar.
The referrals were made despite Mr Penty having no problem allowing Dr Randall continuing to work with children at the school after the 2019 sermon. In his referral he also cited a sermon that had ‘offended’ a handful of students and staff as far back as 2016, even though the school took no action at the time.
Dr Randall had never had any concerns raised in regard to his classroom teaching, or extracurricular activities, during his time at Trent College. The School’s DSL had referred him to the LADO and Prevent, but both had confirmed his conduct did not require investigation.
Allegations and investigation
In a letter from the TRA received in March 2023, however, Dr Randall was told: ‘In executing this role as the regulator for the teaching profession, on behalf of the Secretary of State, the TRA has considered the referral and has decided that a formal investigation should be started in relation to the following matters.’
The allegations outlined against Dr Randall accused him of being ‘guilty of unacceptable professional conduct and/or conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute.’
It was alleged that the 2019 sermon, which had resulted in the Prevent referral, was ‘offensive’ for suggesting that ‘pupils did not have to accept views and/or ideologies of LGBT+ activists.’ This allegation was made despite the legal obligations on teachers not to promote partisan political positions.
On the 2016 sermon, Dr Randall was accused of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and ‘offensive dialogue’ for suggesting to pupils that ‘marriage can only exist between a man and a woman’ and ‘that it is sinful to alter your body according to Christian teachings.’
The letter informed Dr Randall that if the allegations were found to be proven he could be found guilty of demonstrating ‘a lack of tolerance and/or respect for the rights and/or beliefs of others’ and that his actions were ‘contrary to fundamental British values.’
If the TRA had decided to take a professional misconduct case against Dr Randall, it would have been the latest in a string of referrals to the TRA targeting Christian teachers for expressing their beliefs in UK schools.
Dr Randall submitted a response to the allegations saying that he was merely describing Christian beliefs, and that he was actually modelling and upholding the fundamental British values by showing the value of free speech and freedom of religion.
Following this, the TRA decided to not take forward a case against him. A decision from the DBS is still pending.
The TRA letter said:
[The] ‘Decision Maker is of the view that, if proven, it would be open to a Professional Conduct Panel to find Reverand [sic] Dr Bernard Randall guilty of Unacceptable Professional Conduct … and that a prohibition order may be appropriate.’
However, ‘the Decision Maker took into account that the Teacher, who is a Chaplain, was speaking about LGBT topics from the perspective of Christian thought and Bible teachings within a Chapel setting in a religious school. The Decision Maker did not consider the sermons contained notions of hatred or complete intolerance.
‘With this in mind the Decision Maker considered the conduct was managed at a local level, and the Decision Maker considered the conduct described is unlikely to result in a Professional Conduct Panel making a recommendation of a prohibition to the Secretary of State.
‘Therefore, there is no case to answer and the case is closed.’
Following the TRA referral, Dr Randall has now launched legal action against Mr Penty for continuing to harass and discriminate against him. A full hearing is expected in 2024.
Dr Randall said: “When I found out about the referral by the Headteacher, it felt vindictive and malicious to say the least. Once the college had the ruling from the tribunal they were not satisfied and wanted to seek to dismantle my life entirely and go for the jugular.
“I am relieved that the TRA has decided to not bring a case against me, but I am horrified that it has got this far.
“Prevent and TRA referrals appear to be being weaponised to intimidate and silence anyone who dares speak against the prevailing secular orthodoxy on human sexuality and identity.
“It is deeply concerning that the school has also tried to use my freedom to speak to the media about what has happened to me to justify a referral.
“What has happened sends a message to Christian teachers, and any professional who does not celebrate and promote gender identity in schools, that not only will you be sacked, but you could be barred from the profession indefinitely if you fail to comply.
“You can no longer teach or encourage debate among children or adults that there are any viewpoints other than embracing full-on LGBT+ ideology. This is untenable in a truly free and democratic country, and every teacher, pupil and parent should be concerned about the ideology being forced onto schools, often without parents having any knowledge of it.
“I’d love to move on with my life, but now have no choice but to continue to fight for justice.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “It should be of concern to everyone when a mild-mannered vicar ends up being reported as a safeguarding risk for saying you can believe marriage is between a man and a woman. If Bernard Randall is deemed not fit to work with children by the Church of England and school authorities, then none of us are safe.
“To throw him out of the vocation he loves, report him to the local authority for safeguarding and stop him working with children, is to wreck his life. He has not been allowed to preach a sermon for over four years. There’s nothing good or kind about this.
“Bernard’s case shows vividly the intolerance of tolerance. We need more teachers and chaplains, like Bernard, working with children, not less.”