A Christian chaplain has launched legal action after being reported to the government’s terrorist watchdog and losing his job for delivering a sermon in a school chapel that encouraged respect and debate on ‘identity ideologies.’
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Rev. Dr Bernard Randall, 48, who is ordained in the Church of England and is a former chaplain of Christ’s College, Cambridge, is taking Trent College to court for discrimination, harassment, victimisation and unfair dismissal.
An employment tribunal hearing is expected to be heard at East Midlands Employment Tribunal from 14 June 2021.
Staff chant ‘smash heteronormativity’
In June 2018, the independent school, which has a ‘protestant and evangelical’ Church of England ethos, invited the leader of Educate and Celebrate, Dr Elly Barnes, into the school to train staff. ‘Educate and Celebrate’ claims to “equip you and your communities with the knowledge, skills and confidence to embed gender, gender identity and sexual orientation into the fabric of your organisation.” Dr Barnes openly declares that the ethos of Educate and Celebrate is to “completely smash heteronormativity, that’s what we want to do” – ‘heteronormativity’ being the belief that a heterosexual relationship between a man and a woman is what is normal.
Rev. Dr Randall, whose job description declared his role to “be the particular voice and embodiment of … Christian values which are at the heart of Trent’s ethos,” was alarmed when, during the training, Dr Barnes instructed staff to chant “smash heteronormativity.”
Furthermore, Dr Barnes wrongly informed staff that ‘gender identity’ is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, and therefore must be legally recognised as a statutory requirement at the school.
Dr Randall raised concerns, but was assured by the headteacher that he would be involved in any decision-making process on whether the school would implement Educate and Celebrate’s programme because of potential clashes with Christian beliefs and values.
In January 2019, at the next staff training day, Dr Randall was stunned to find out that the school had decided to adopt their year-long ‘gold standard’ programme. This would see an identity politics ‘LGBT inclusive curriculum’ implemented, even for the nursery provision at the school.
When Dr. Randall asked why he had not been included in discussions, he was told that it was because he ‘might disagree’.
After asking students what subjects they would like to hear in his sermons during the summer term Christian chapel services, Dr Randall was approached by a student who asked him whether he would address the following: “how come we are told we have to accept all this LGBT stuff in a Christian school?”
He had also been approached by pupils who had said that they were confused and upset by the issues involved in the new LGBT teaching.
Delivering the sermon in the school’s chapel entitled ‘Competing ideologies’, Dr Randall moderately and carefully presented the Christian viewpoint on identity questions, encouraged debate and stressed that no protected characteristic is more protected than another. He explained that for Christians, where there is disagreement, it is vital to love your neighbour, leaving no room for personal attack or abusive language towards anyone.
Presenting the Church of England’s Biblical position on marriage and human nature, he emphasised that children at the school were not compelled to “accept an ideology they disagree with.” Rather, he encouraged the students, aged from 11 to 17, to debate and make up their own minds on the issue.
The sermon was part of a service which also included hymns, prayers and a Bible reading.
Suspended and investigated
The following week, he was pulled into a meeting with the Deputy Head and the school’s Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL).
In a hostile interrogation, Dr Randall was told that his beliefs were not relevant and did not matter, and that the sermon had hurt some people’s feelings and undermined the School’s LGBT agenda.
He was also told it was ‘offensive’ to describe Elly Barnes as an ‘LGBT activist’, despite her describing herself as a ‘DIVA Activist of the Year’ on her Twitter profile at the time.
During the interrogation, Dr Randall was asked what the sources of Church teachings were. For the beliefs on marriage, sexuality and gender, he pointed to the Church of England’s public liturgy, especially the Book of Common Prayer, and Canon law.
Nonetheless, Dr Randall was immediately suspended, pending an investigation.
Reported to terrorist watchdog
Disclosed emails reveal that after this meeting, the DSL began the process of reporting Dr Randall, without his knowledge, to the government’s counter-terrorism watchdog, Prevent, as a potentially violent religious extremist.
The DSL also reported him to the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) as a danger to children, which is the same point of contact for reporting concerns over paedophilia.
On 1 July 2019, a Derbyshire police officer, Richard Barker, responded to the report to Prevent saying that the sermon posed no counter-terrorism risk. However, documents reveal that according to the DSL, he gave his personal opinion that the sermon “was wholly inappropriate for a school, and society in general.”
Dr Randall then discovered by accident that he had been reported to Prevent and was only casually told that it would not be taken any further.
Following an investigation and disciplinary hearing, Dr Randall received a letter on the 30 August 2019 stating that the Head Master had concluded that his actions had amounted to gross misconduct and that he would be dismissed.
On appeal, his sacking was overturned by the school’s governors, but he was given a final warning instead.
Dr Randall was provided with 20 conditions that he had to comply with regarding any future sermons. Open censorship of his sermons followed.
Within the 20 conditions he had to comply with, he was banned from broaching:
“Any topic or express any opinion (in Chapel or more generally around School) that is likely to cause offence or distress to members of the school body.”
It also stated that: “You will not publicly express personal beliefs in ways which exploit our pupils’ vulnerability.”
He was told that every theme and piece of sermon content had to be approved by school leadership in advance and that a staff member would observe to ensure each stipulation was met.
When the country went into lockdown in March 2020, Dr Randall was immediately furloughed. As restrictions eased, the school refused to reinstate his timetable, planned to reduce his full-time hours to seven hours per week, and was eventually made redundant by the headteacher on 31 December 2020.
‘I don’t think Church of England is extremist’
Commenting on his reaction when he found out he had been reported to Prevent without his knowledge, Dr Randall said: “I was terrified. I did not sleep. What was I supposed to tell my family? Being reported as a potential terrorist, extremist and a danger to children are arguably the worst crimes you could be accused of.
“When I found out that they had reported me without telling me, my mind was blown trying to comprehend it. I had gone to such lengths in the sermon to stress that we must respect one another no matter what, even people we disagree with. I am not ashamed to say that I cried with relief when I was told that the report to Prevent was not going to be taken further.
“Yet I ended up being told that I had to support everybody else’s beliefs, no matter what, while my Christian beliefs, the Church of England’s beliefs, were blatantly censored.
“During the disciplinary hearing, I was never asked what I thought, they just assumed that I had extreme religious views. I don’t think the Church of England is an extremist organisation.
“I was doing the job I was employed to do. I wasn’t saying anything that I should not have been able to say in any liberal secular institution. Everyone should be free to accept or reject an ideology. Isn’t that what liberal democracy means?
“My story sends a message to other Christians that you are not free to talk about your faith. It seems it is no longer enough to just ‘tolerate’ LGBT ideology. You must accept it without question and no debate is allowed without serious consequences. Someone else will decide what is and what isn’t acceptable, and suddenly you can become an outcast, possibly for the rest of your life.
“I 100% see what has happened to me in Orwellian terms. Truth matters, but increasingly powerful groups in our society do not care about the truth.
“My career and life are in tatters. I believe that if this is the Cross that I have to carry to help prevent others from experiencing the same as me, I have no choice but to pursue justice.”
‘Who are the extremists here?’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “When an ordained Church of England minister can’t give a simple sermon in a Church of England school without being reported as an extremist and hounded out of his job then who is safe?
“For many years Bernard Randall has worked in education motivated by his love for God and others.
“When someone like him is pursued and punished it’s an attack on us all. It’s time to stand up and speak up for these freedoms.
“Is this the kind of behaviour we expect from those with the care and protection of our children?
“Now is the time for ordinary people to wake up and contend for vital freedoms.
“All those that said it couldn’t happen – punishing and criminalising a Christian minister for preaching from the bible – need to take a long, hard look at the story of Bernard Randall.
“Who are the extremists in this story? The moderate school chaplain with an intelligent, mild mannered and thoughtful sermon or Educate and Celebrate encouraging staff to smash heteronormativity?”