Guernsey maintains teacher discrimination laws after pressure from local Catholic Diocese

November 13, 2021

Efforts in Guernsey to extend religious discrimination protections to teachers working and applying for jobs at faith schools have been dashed after the local Catholic Diocese threatened to close it local schools. In response the Accord Coalition has urged Catholic Church of England and Wales authorities to desist from coercing public servants.

A proposal to in five year’s time end the ability of faith schools to religiously discriminate in the recruitment and employment of their teachers had been advanced by a Committee of Guernsey’s combined governmental and unicameral legislature, the States of Guernsey. Under the island’s political system, executive functions are carried out using a committee system. However, plans by the Committee for Employment and Social Security to protect faith school teachers was rejected last week at a full States of Guernsey meeting.

The local Diocese had previously warned the Committee that it could close its schools if the measure was enacted. Meanwhile, ahead of the last week’s full States of Guernsey meeting, the Bishop of Portsmouth wrote to parishioners on the island warning that the proposal ‘puts all Catholic schools in Guernsey under threat’ and urging them to write to their elected representatives to vote it down.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘It is very disappointing that the local Diocese has tried to coerce public servants and mispresented requirements for its schools. Faith schools can still require teachers to respect and uphold their religious ethos without engaging in discrimination. Indeed, many Catholic schools in the world operate without recourse to religiously discriminatory practices.’

‘Heavy-handed tactics, such as threatening to close schools, are reputationally damaging. They also run the risk that warnings about clear and present threats to religious liberty will in the longer term be taken less seriously. The public debate about how state funded school systems should adjust to operating in an increasingly religiously mixed society is of long standing, and is increasing in intensity. We urge the local Diocese and national education officials to contribute constructively towards this crucial discussion, and to be more considerate towards those from different religious backgrounds. It is short-sighted, unfair and unjust to continue to treat educationally inclusive proposals as territorial threats to be combated.’

The inclusive approach of many Catholic schools was highlighted in November 2016 by the Catholic International Education Office/ Office International De L’Enseignement Catholique (OIEC) who issued an inclusive and non-discriminatory mission statement for Catholic schools, which it produced for a Council of Europe education seminar. The short briefing noted that a Catholic school should be:

‘• A school that joins forces with other bodies of formal and informal education at local and national level for the benefit of local populations, young and old, without any discrimination. … A non-discriminatory school, open to all … In conclusion, the Catholic school is anything but a communitarian school. It is open to all … It must constantly promote intercultural and interreligious dialogue, if it is to continue its mission. This is in any case a motto of the OIEC, all over the world.’

Earlier this year Alliance Party Member of the Legislative Assembly of Northern Ireland, Chris Lyttle, launched a consultation on a Private Members Bill he is seeking to table to extend religious discrimination protections to teachers at all state funded faith schools. Back in 2013 the Chief Executive of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools told a meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Education that:

Our Council finds the notion of discrimination on the grounds of one’s religion abhorrent. It is on record as saying that. We do not believe that, in 2013, there is a place for that exemption of teachers from fair employment. We, as a council, are quite happy for that exemption to be removed’.

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