The Catholic Education Service (CES) has written to every state-funded Catholic secondary school in England and Wales asking them to urge pupils to sign a petition against gay marriage. The British Humanist Association (BHA) describes this as "absolutely outrageous", and believes that, if accurate, the CES is likely to have broken multiple laws in pushing such a petition to pupils.
Last month, the CES wrote to all Catholic secondary schools and asked them to draw attention to a letter against gay marriage from the Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark which was read out at Sunday Masses on 11 March. The CES also asked schools to "draw [the] attention" of pupils as young as 11 to a petition against gay marriage from the Coalition for Marriage.
An article in Pink News says the CES’s actions are likely to have broken the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits discrimination against pupils based on their sexual orientation. The BHA believe the CES’s actions are also likely to breach sections 406-7 of the Education Act 1996, which forbids ‘the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school’, and requires balanced treatment of political issues. This law was successfully used in 2007 to stop schools showing Al Gore’s climate change film, 'An Inconvenient Truth', without also explaining scientific errors in the film.
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, "This action by the Catholic Education Service is absolutely outrageous. Not only might this break equalities legislation, it also breaks laws against political partisanship. If any pupil at one of the schools concerned is interested in challenging this practice at law, we urge them to get in touch with us."
He added that the church had undermined "one of their core arguments against gay marriage, which is supposedly to protect children from exposure to such matters".
A spokeswoman for CES said: "We said that schools might like to consider using this [letter] in assemblies or in class teaching. We said people might want to consider asking pupils and parents if they might want to sign the petition. It's really important that no school discriminates against any member of the school community.
"Schools with a religious character are allowed to teach sex and relationships – and conduct assemblies – in accordance with the religious views of the school. The Catholic view of marriage is not a political view; it's a religious view."