Marriage (Same Sex Couples)
Memorandum submitted by Samuel Webster (MB 97)
1. I am a solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales and in-house solicitor at The Christian Institute, a charity committed to advancing the Christian faith in the UK and elsewhere.
2. My job includes giving advice and assistance to Christians who have suffered discrimination or harassment because of their faith.
3. I wish the Committee to know about the cases of two teachers who I have assisted. Both faced disciplinary situations at work because of the conflict between their orthodox Christian view of marriage and professional obligations placed on them to teach about same sex relationships.
4. Both teachers whose cases I refer to in this statement have consented to my mentioning their cases. As both are still teaching, they have asked me not to disclose any details which could identify them.
The primary school teacher
5. In 2009 I advised a primary school teacher who teaches at a school in a London borough. She is a committed Christian. I shall refer to her as "Mrs A".
6. During an afternoon in January 2009, Mrs A was covering a year 5/6 class. At the end of the day, she picked out a book called "Tango Makes Three" from the book collection in the classroom. On the cover, it had a picture of penguins at the zoo. Mrs A thought it was a book about the zoo and decided to read it to the children. However, after reading the first couple of pages, she realised that it was a story book depicting a same sex relationship between two penguins. She was shocked because the book was clearly written to promote to children the idea that homosexual relationships are equivalent to traditional marriage.
7. Some of the children immediately realised what the book was about due to the part that their teacher had innocently read to them, although none of them seemed to mind her not finishing the book. Mrs A asked the children if they wanted her to explain why and they said they would. She replied that some people think that such relationships are okay. That’s their decision. However, others do not. The children appeared to have no problem with this. She then picked up another book, first scanning through it carefully, and the children didn’t mention anything else after that.
8. Mrs A had felt that she had dealt with the incident in class in a measured and responsible manner while maintaining the integrity of her faith. She also believed that her response was consistent with the teachers’ code of conduct.
9. Mrs A felt particularly aggrieved because she did not believe that she should have been put in a position of reading such a book in the first place – a situation which would not have arisen had she been made aware that the school had acquired such books. Had it not been for this incident, the children would never have had any inkling of her views on the subject of same sex relationships. She would not have looked for an occasion to express them.
10. A few days after the incident, Mrs A was spoken to by her head teacher. The head said that the children in the class had asked why their teacher had not read the book. Mrs A explained what had happened, but the head told her that this was against the law, a very serious situation, and that the management would meet to discuss the matter. They would then meet with Mrs A. Mrs A said that as a Christian she could not read such books because she would then be promoting homosexual relationships as morally acceptable.
11. Soon after this incident, Mrs A was restricted from having her own class in the new school year. In the meeting when this was explained to Mrs A, her head told her: "The school policy will soon be to promote homosexuality which will include the reading of books in class".
12. Mrs A became a support teacher in the new school year.
13. I assisted Mrs A in raising a grievance, but she did not have the appetite to pursue a claim against the school, with the publicity that might attract.
The secondary school teacher
14. In autumn 2012 I advised a teacher who teaches philosophy in a state secondary school in Scotland. He is a committed Christian and was required by his school to teach about same sex marriage in a way which he could not in good conscience do. I shall refer to this teacher as "Mr X".
15. The background to this matter is that the Scottish Government had introduced its Curriculum for Excellence, a programme for building a more flexible curriculum in Scottish schools. I understand that up until that point, Religious and Moral Education (RME) had been taught to years 1 – 4 in the school where Mr X works. However, the school inspectors said that they thought the school ought to teach it in year 5 as well. Mr X’s school chose to teach RME within philosophy, which Mr X teaches to year 5 students.
16. Mr X’s school proceeded to write its own course materials covering the new topics to be included in the philosophy section of the curriculum. The materials included the topics of marriage, relationships, sexuality, and homosexuality, amongst other matters. Mr X had no problem teaching about these topics in a balanced and objective way but he couldn’t in good conscience state that opposite and same sex relationships are the same.
17. However, the head of department told Mr X that "all need to be singing from the same hymn sheet". He said that male/female marriage is just an Old Testament concept. Mr X replied that this was not correct but the head of department got angry when Mr X said that he had a problem with saying same sex marriage is the same as heterosexual marriage. During a departmental meeting, the head of department produced an article from the Times Education Supplement about same sex marriage and said "if you have a problem go and see the boss". When Mr X spoke to the head teacher, he said that he had a problem because as a Christian he goes by what the Bible says and teaching about same sex marriage would mean having to say something which goes against his beliefs. The head teacher said he would get back to Mr X.
18. The head teacher subsequently asked Mr X to come to a meeting, where the head teacher told Mr X that he would have to teach the relationships course "without exemptions or safeguards" and not state his own views.
19. This incident contributed to Mr X having a breakdown and being signed off work for several months with stress. Happily, he is shortly returning to school where matters now appear to be resolved, although not withoutH personal cost to Mr X. I understand that his union has been supportive.