MEND Statement: Parkfield School
Categories: Latest News
Thursday May 16 2019
In recent months, the parents of Parkfield School and others have come out to protest against a programme some perceive to be interfering with their religious rights. “No Outsiders” produced by Andrew Moffat, the assistant head teacher at Parkfield, aims to educate children about issues such as sexual orientation, with lessons featuring books depicting same-sex relationships.
MEND expresses its support for people of all faiths to follow and believe in their scripture without labels. This does not, as the current media narrative suggests, imply that anyone should be subject to disrespect. This includes both the parents exercising their democratic right to protest, and the teachers going about their lawful business. MEND condemns any abuse, threats, or vilification of teachers, other staff members, and parents campaigning against school policies.
Simply put, parents have the right to educate their children in accordance with their religious beliefs. This is enshrined in Article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998 – freedom of thought, belief, and religion. It is also reiterated in Article 2 of the First Protocol that “in the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions”1. The Government itself has stated that “schools must consult parents in the development of their policies on Relationships Education and RSE”2, and in the response to the consultation regarding RSE teaching published in February 2019, stated that these subjects should be taught, “bearing in mind the religious backgrounds of their pupils”, and that the content “enables schools with a religious character to build on the core content by reflecting the teachings of their faith”3.
The parents’ protests should be thus seen in the context of the above, i.e. an expression of their human rights and a reflection of Government guidance on this matter.
To imply that Muslim parents with reservations about how their children are taught in SRE are homophobic, as has been implied in some parts of the media, is untrue.
It is important to clarify a misconception here, that to question RSE teaching or consider that homosexuality is a sin (a view shared by Christianity and Judaism) is to automatically discriminate against people from the LGBT community. This is simply a nonsensical argument. Many people hold differing positions on religious, moral or ethical matters, e.g. abortion, but this does not imply that they are discriminating against people with the opposite view. In this case, while religious beliefs may preclude the practice of homosexuality, it does not mean that members of the LGBTQI+ community should be discriminated against. Hatred and discrimination of all forms must be opposed.
Indeed, the irony is that the aims of LGBT community and that of minority faith communities are not dissimilar, in that both work towards eliminating prejudice and discrimination. Nevertheless, this shared aim does not mean either side should be coerced into compromising their beliefs – in the case of religious communities, the struggle against hatred should not be seen as mutually exclusive with their right to believe and practice their religion.
The legitimate grievances parents have has, unfortunately, being hijacked by those with ulterior motives, in an attempt to cause division and disunity between communities. It is not the place of media pundits or the state to interfere in theological debates, or define what is permissible or not according to religious scripture.
We thus call upon parents and schools to come together to understand what is being taught, and how it should reflect the views of the Muslim and other faith communities, in accordance with the above guidance.
At this time, we call for people of all backgrounds to resist the standoffish narrative propagated by some sections of the media which have a vested interest in seeing the erosion of solidarity between communities.
The priority of schools should always be to support and uphold the rights of children. While initiatives aimed at embracing differences should be celebrated, this should never come at the cost of causing and creating conflict between a child’s right to believe and practice their faith.