An ordained Church of England (CofE) chaplain, who was sacked and secretly reported to the government’s terrorist watchdog for a moderate sermon in a school chapel on identity politics, will appeal an employment tribunal ruling handed down this week.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Rev. Dr Bernard Randall had taken his employer, Trent College in Nottingham, to court for discrimination, harassment, victimisation and unfair dismissal.
He has described the ruling against him as a “blow for free speech and Christian freedoms.”
Extreme LGBT ideology
Bernard, who is a former chaplain at Christ’s College Cambridge, had been ‘alarmed’ when at the start of the school year in 2018, Trent College in Nottinghamshire, which has a ‘Protestant and Evangelical’ CofE ethos, invited radical and extreme LGBT group Educate & Celebrate (E&C) into the school.
During staff training, E&C’s leader, Elly Barnes, had encouraged staff to chant “smash heteronormativity.”
‘Smashing heteronormativity’ means smashing the traditional view of sex and gender and getting rid of the belief that there are men and women, and that men and women belong together. In other words, ‘smashing’ the Christian worldview of sex and gender.
E&C actively promote Queer Theory and the ‘Gender Unicorn’ which presents multiple genders children can identify as. The group has been shrouded in controversy after being forced to remove leading patron, trans comic, Jordan Grey, for stripping naked on Channel Four.
Gray had suggested that he went into schools to “talk about gender” on behalf of E&C, adding that “toddlers kind of get it straight away.”
Following Elly Barnes’s training, Trent College began implementing a ‘gold standard’ LGBT programme across the school.
Responding to questions from students – reported to Prevent
Responding to questions from students, in July 2019, Dr Randall delivered a sermon entitled ‘Competing Ideologies’ in the school’s CofE chapel. The sermon was moderate, encouraged respect and debate and said that it was alright for pupils to disagree with LGBT teaching.
However, Bernard has described, how, following the sermon, he was subjected to Stalinesque interrogations and a sustained campaign of open censorship against him, which led to his life being torn apart.
Without his knowledge, he was reported to the government’s terrorist watchdog, Prevent, manoeuvred out of employment at the school, and blacklisted as a ‘safeguarding risk’ by the CofE. He has not been able to give a sermon in over three years.
Church guidance used against the chaplain
Dr Randall had repeatedly raised during investigations by the school and the diocese that his beliefs on marriage and human sexuality, were based on the CofE’s public liturgy, especially the Book of Common Prayer, and Canon law which states that marriage is “in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman.”
Following a legal hearing at East Midlands Employment Tribunal in September 2022, however, Employment Judge Victoria Butler ruled against Bernard. As has become standard practice in Christian freedoms cases, Judge Butler used the CofE’s own ‘Valuing All God’s Children’ guidance for schools against Bernard. Judge Butler made the point that the CofE cite E&C as a recognised ‘resource’ in the guidance.
Bernard’s views labelled ‘extreme’
Judge Butler suggested that Bernard had “misconceived” what E&C are and that he had had “an extreme reaction” to their involvement within the Christian school.
She said: “The Claimant [Bernard] takes an extreme view of E&C which bears no resemblance to the reality of its purpose and implementation, which was aimed simply at creating an inclusive environment for all. We saw and heard no evidence that came anywhere close to supporting the Claimant’s view that E&C would indoctrinate pupils in such a way.”
Judge Butler accepted the School’s evidence that Elly Barnes getting staff to chant “smash heteronormativity” was “simply an enthusiastic attempt by Ms Barnes to warm-up the teachers at the outset of the day.”
In regards to Bernard’s sermon, she concluded that: “The duty to safeguard pupils from the risk of harm and the requirement to comply with the Independent Schools Standards Regulator outweigh the Claimant’s right to express his beliefs in the manner he did in a school environment.”
Despite the sermon being moderate, Judge Butler repeated a conclusion based on a handful of complaints, and which bears no resemblance to what Bernard said, that: “We have already found that the message taken away by pupils was that it was wrong to be LGBT+ and okay to discriminate.”
Bernard had explicitly stated, “no one should be discriminated against simply for who he or she is: that’s a Christian value,” and also repeatedly emphasised the importance of respecting those with whom we disagree and that, “there is no excuse for personal attacks or abusive language.”
In regard to the school’s referral of Bernard to Prevent, Judge Butler said: “Ms Rimington [safeguarding officer] has extensive experience in her field. She gave evidence that she is trained to look for indicators of radicalisation and recognise when someone was becoming radicalised long before they reach the point where terrorism is reached. She explained that there was ‘a continuum which is quite a long journey’.”
She added that, “the referral arose because of the objectionable way in which the Claimant manifested his beliefs and was justified because of the need to take a cautious approach from a safeguarding perspective.”
Furthermore, she said that the safeguarding officer, “was concerned that the Claimant’s deeply held belief that Canon law took precedence over the welfare of pupils and staff fell under the remit of Prevent.”
The one-sided judgment did mention the evidence submitted by Rev. Dr Ian Paul, which provided “an explanation of Canon law and referred to case law in respect of the protected characteristic of religion or belief. In summary he said: ‘In sum, it seems to me that what Dr Randall said was entirely in accord with the Church’s teaching. This teaching is something that Dr Randall, as an ordained clergyman in the Church, has an obligation to understand, teach, and uphold in his own lifestyle. To in any way prohibit him from expressing and explaining this teaching might easily be construed as a breach of his own rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religious belief, rights that are enshrined in international law, and I think it would certainly qualify as an example of direct discrimination on the grounds of religion under the Equality Act 2010. In addition, a straightforward reading of the foundation of the College would suggest that, in his role as chaplain, he is in fact mandated to ensure that pupils understand this teaching and consider its historical, social and theological foundations and importance.’”
‘Blow for free speech and Christian freedoms’
Responding to the result, Bernard said that he planned to appeal: “I am extremely disappointed at this result. It is a personal blow, but more importantly, it is a blow for all those who believe in freedom of speech, in freedom of religion, and in an educational system which opens the minds of young people rather than narrowing them or imposing an ideology that many or most in our society find troubling.
“It is a foundational principle of a truly democratic society that the free exchange of ideas is good for everyone.
“In this case, mainstream Christian beliefs about marriage are held by a minority in society, albeit a substantial one. They are hardly extreme: they arise out of God’s deep love for all people, and his desire for full human flourishing. They deserve to be taken seriously.
“On the other hand, the beliefs of gender identity ideology are themselves held by a minority, and are controversial to say the least. They also deserve to be taken seriously. However, it cannot be right for a school to teach them as if they are undisputable facts, and to shut down those who wish to take an open thoughtful approach to the well-being of young people.
“No belief is above scrutiny or discussion which respects the integrity of those who hold beliefs different than our own. But discussion needs different voices to be heard. Knee-jerk rejection of beliefs with which we disagree, and the demonisation of those who hold them, has no place in a modern democracy. It certainly does not reflect the love for our neighbours which Jesus wants us to show.
“The Tribunal’s ruling makes the free exchange of ideas in schools, and in wider society much harder. I understood that the whole point of the Equality Act is to protect minorities. It feels today as if Christians are one minority who are not afforded that protection, and I believe that is wrong on every level.”
‘You cannot disagree with LGBT teaching’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, who backed Dr Randall’s case, said: “We cannot permit this judgment to stand. It is neither a rational judgment nor an impartial one. It reads as a promotional piece for Queer theory.
“This judgment is tragic for Dr Randall but we are encouraging him and all faithful clergy and lay members in the Church of England who believe in biblical truth to stand firm. This outcome is not the end of the matter. We will not rest until this kind of censorship of biblical teaching ends.
“The message from this judgment to Christians is you cannot disagree or express disagreement with LGBT teaching – you must comply, celebrate and promote. It is not enough to be tolerant and liberal in the original sense of those words. You have to actively promote and celebrate.
“Extreme LGBT groups, like Educate and Celebrate, who want to confuse and influence young children with extreme LGBT ideology and ‘smash heteronormativity’, should never be allowed into UK schools. Schools and the CofE are putting thousands of children at risk of long-term damage if the influence of these groups continues .
“Bernard is kind, intelligent and is not a safeguarding risk to anyone. It is the rise of LGBT ideology and activism within the Church of England that is the ‘risk’ to good and faithful clergy.
“For a moderate and considered sermon by a CofE clergy, reflecting the CofE’s own teaching on marriage in a CofE chapel in a CofE school, Bernard was reported a terrorist, blacklisted as a safeguarding risk to children and was hounded out of his employment.
“It has been appalling how the CofE hierarchy has stood back and watched one of its own clergy being crushed by the prevailing secular orthodoxy on human sexuality.
“We will fight for justice for as long as it takes.”