JCHR report questions faith school exemptions

March 12, 2010

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) is a prestigious group of MPs and peers from all parties. In a report published today (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200910/jtselect/jtrights/73/73.pdf) it has argued that the rights of teachers and prospective pupils may not be adequately protected by laws on faith schools.

On teachers

The report argues that faith schools “may be in breach of” European employment law for the way that they discriminate against teachers. This is because – unlike other employers with a religious ethos – faith schools are able to restrict posts to coreligionists without needing to justify doing so on a case-by-case basis.

The report also questions whether changes made to the law in 2006 that extended the scope of religious discrimination permissible in certain posts in faith schools were legal under European law.

On school admissions

The report says that the current law allowing schools with a religious character to have religious admissions requirements “may be overdrawn” and that the government’s defence of this exemption is misguided. While the report does not argue that the whole principle of allowing schools to select by religion is wrong in law, it questions whether it is legal to allow faith schools to discriminate irrespective of whether doing so helps protect their religious character in reality.

The report makes the point that many Church of England schools already do not have religious admissions requirements and, in the opinion of the Church, this has not undermined their religious character. If this is the case, then perhaps it is right to ask questions of those schools that persist in keeping religious admissions criteria?

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