Teaching abortion in an ‘enlightened’ and ‘non-judgmental’ way
The contention, as ever, is in the provision of sex education.
The Catholic Education Service and Archbishop Vincent Nichols are apparently so content with the settlement that they provided Ed Balls with abundant quotations to that effect (or, rather, they have not sought to correct his interpretation of their apparent acquiescence or his self-promotion as the guardian of religious liberty).
Yet the National Secular Society and the more Tablet-inclined Roman Catholics are appalled by what they see as a Government climb-down and ‘pandering to religion’.
And so are a few liberal Jews and those ‘fairly classic’ sorts of Anglicans.
The liberal religionists accuse the Secretary of State of diluting the ‘enlightened’ compulsory requirement for all schools to teach about contraception, homosexuality and abortion in a ‘neutral’ kind of way.
The orthodox are foaming at the mouth over the imposition of secular or ‘enlightened’ values upon schools whose religious foundation repudiates that such moral issues could or should be addressed in a ‘neutral’ fashion.
It is not a new clash of worldviews: indeed, the ‘special’ status of what have become known as ‘faith schools’ can be traced to the very foundations of the state education settlement in the nineteenth century, which was enshrined in law for the modern era in the 1944 Education Act.
But it is a bizarre and undignified spat, because anyone can see that it is the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales (as represented by the Catholic Education Service and led by the Archbishop of Westminster) which has shifted on this; it is they who have (apparently) agreed to propagate the ‘enlightened’ secular amorality of New Labour.
One can understand that socialist zealots are blind to the dogmatic orthodoxy of their own state coercion that ‘enlightenment neutrality’ must be imposed upon all children: they are, after all, socialists, and it is intrinsic to their political creed that children are the property of the state and that the state has a duty to inculcate them with a sense of what is permitted and induct them with the state’s notions of truth. The creed is as illiberal as the most illiberal religion, and as unenlightened as the most medieval attitude.
If parents no longer have the right to educate their children in accordance with their own religious laws and values, England has just lost the religious liberty which has developed over the past three centuries. The steps towards emancipation which Nonconformists, Jews and Roman Catholics have taken over the years have resulted in greater liberties in their teaching, worship, marriage and the right to stand for public office.
It is ironic that these hard-won liberties are now being steadily eroded, and the authoritarian state is rediscovering its repressive instinct.
As a result of this Act, all schools in England (for education is a devolved competence) are now required by statutory instrument to teach all pupils about contraception, homosexuality, civil partnerships and abortion.
Faith schools, however, may do so in accordance with their religious precepts. The amendment inserted by Mr Balls reads:
Page 14, line 6 [Clause 11], at end insert—
‘(7A) Subsections (4) to (7) are not to be read as preventing the governing body or head teacher of a school within subsection (7B) from causing or allowing PSHE to be taught in a way that reflects the school’s religious character.
(7B) A school is within this subsection if it is designated as a school having a religious character by an order made by the Secretary of State under section 69(3) of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.’.
You might think, therefore, that (say) a Roman Catholic school would be free to teach that contraception exists but it is expressly forbidden by the magisterium as being contrary to the purposes of God; that homosexuality is, as the Pope says, an ‘intrinsic disorder’; that civil partnerships are nothing but a perverted parody of the institution of marriage; and that abortion is... well, murder.
Not so. The exemption is illusory.
Mr Balls has said of faith schools: ‘What they must not do is teach discrimination’.
This begs the question of whether the Secretary of State knows the difference between prejudice and discrimination, not least because the very existence of faith schools enshrines discriminatory provisions within the education system.
He also says: “Faith schools will not be able to opt out of statutory lessons on sex and relationship education when the legislation comes into effect in September 2011. This includes education about contraception and the importance of stable relationships, including marriage and civil partnerships. It will not allow the teaching of homophobia...”
Which schools teach ‘homophobia’? How is this defined? Is it not clear that any move to teach that civil partnerships are somehow inferior to marriage runs the risk of allegations of ‘homophobia’?
And so Labour now require that all matters of sex and sexuality be taught in a ‘non-judgmental’ way.
But it is difficult to see how this may be done without setting aside the traditional moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the very words of Pope Benedict XVI.
To state that homosexuality is an ‘intrinsic disorder’ is... well, judgmental.
To state that abortion is murder is no less so.
Unless one is to teach that homosexuality is an intrinsic disorder but then expound its carnal joys and bonding pleasures; or that abortion is a grave moral evil and a mortal sin, but then provide girls with all the information and encouragement they require to procure one and all the emotional comfort they need afterwards.
The reality is that this Bill forces every faith school to conform to the ‘fairly classic’ sort of Anglicanism: but it is not a statutory via media which attempts to tread somewhere between the liberals and conservatives, but a statutory instrument which obliges the conservatives to adopt liberal values and expound liberal doctrine, which, to them, is manifestly unorthodox. They are henceforth coerced by the state’s concept of ‘neutrality’. These schools are obliged to present as ‘choice’ what hitherto has not been a choice; to give pupils the options as though they were all morally equivalent; to promote what has traditionally been judged to be ‘sin’. It is facilitation under the guise of information.
Harry Cohen MP, a Labour backbencher, asked Vernon Coaker, junior minister for schools:
"Will my hon. Friend assure me that no faith school teacher will be allowed to spread long-term fear among children by telling them that if they subsequently have an abortion or partake in homosexuality they will end up going to hell?"
To which Mr Coaker replied: "Of course I can give my hon. Friend that assurance."
And so Parliament has grabbed the Keys of St Peter. And the state’s office of the Inquisition – Ofsted – will ensure compliance, lest an otherwise outstanding school be publically criticised and humiliated for ‘failing’ to provide an ‘adequate’ programme of PSHE.
Since this Bill cannot become law before the General Election, it remains to be seen what the Conservative Party intends to do with it.
One would think that a party which traditionally eschews coercion and recognises the right of parents to educate their children in accordance with their own religious precepts would let this Bill fall by the wayside. The problem they have is that it is enmeshed with issues of gay ‘equality’ and minority ‘liberty’.
For all three main political parties, moral ideas have become a desiccated sediment: they had significance while they were suspended in the fluid of religious and social tradition. Labour have been drawing off the water of life in which our moral ideas were suspended, pouring it down the drain with the sewage, leaving us with nothing but dust.
Labour have de-legitimised morality and replaced it with abstract moralising, as though the vagaries of human sense were a substitute for millennia of accumulated wisdom. The nation’s Protestant Settlement, which bequeathed us a tradition of benign social authority, has been subsumed to a malign socialist anti-authoritarianism and ultra-liberalism which is inexorably changing our culture beyond recognition and foisting upon everyone a value-free vernacular.
One cannot be ‘neutral’ about sex, sexuality or the sanctity of life without being indifferent.
It is time for Christians to repudiate New Labour’s old tyranny.