Search Donate

Show results for
  • News
  • Videos
  • Action Alerts
  • Events
  • Resources
  • MEND

Rights of the Religious: Why Schools Must Consult With Muslim Parents Over LGBTQ Content in Schools

Rights of the Religious: Why Schools Must Consult With Muslim Parents Over LGBTQ Content in Schools

Categories: Latest News

Friday April 14 2023

Recently, the British government has announced plans to play a more active role in regulating Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curricula taught in schools, particularly relating to one hot-button issue: LGBTQ content. Specifically, Prime Minister Sunak announced that by the summer, schools will be given new guidance on how to navigate these “sensitive areas.”

Needless to say, this announcement did not emerge out of the blue. While it may be that the Conservatives are cynically weaponising this issue as part of their broader ‘culture war,’ it is also undeniable that genuine alarm exists among some sections of society regarding the direction of LGBTQ content in RSE, especially in primary schools. There is one constituency in particular where concerns run very high, but whose point of view is often given inadequate attention: that of religious communities, and particularly Muslims. While concern over LGBTQ RSE transcends religious boundaries, as highlighted by opposition among sections of both Christian and Jewish opinion, all too often the issue is framed as a ‘Muslim problem.’

One likely reason for the lack of accommodation given to the voices of faith communities is that in ‘Liberal’ Western societies like twenty-first century Britain, religion is often viewed as ‘old fashioned,’ and even ‘regressive,’ while secular ‘progressive’ and ‘modern’ values are assumed to be inherently ‘good’. The belief also exists that scriptural religious prohibitions on homosexuality automatically translate into homophobic discrimination, which is not true. One of the social consequences of these simplistic assumptions is that views expressed in light of religious faith are often ignored, or even openly mocked and dismissed. This is ironic, considering that tolerance and respect for diversity are supposed to be part of what makes up ‘British values.’

One example of the contempt often shown for concerns expressed by Muslims toward LGBTQ RSE was on display in Birmingham in 2019. Muslim parents held a protest outside of Anderton Primary School because they had not been consulted by the school over LGBTQ RSE content being taught to their small children. The protest was attended by hundreds of people, but that did not stop the school’s head teacher, and some sections of the media, from making the crude generalisation that it was “homophobic” and “disgusting.” Yet, the leader of the protest was clear about his motivations when speaking to local news: “we are not homophobic,” he said, “this is about a lack of consultation with parents and their wish to raise our children in accordance with our own religious beliefs”. This appears to be a reasonably held faith view and is entirely in accordance with Article 9 of the Human Rights Act – freedom of thought, belief or religion.

In fact, there is strong legal grounding for the argument that schools must engage in consultation with parents over RSE content. Department for Education (DfE) statutory guidelines state that RSE teaching materials should be “developed in consultation with parents and the local community”. They explicitly note that, “the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching so that all the topics that are included … are appropriately handled”. After all, there is a fine line between schools exposing their children to LGBTQ viewpoints that are age-appropriate and promoting alternative lifestyles that are hostile to religious and/or cultural norms.

It is also noteworthy that if a school does not strike this balance by taking the religious character of some of its students into account, then it could be in breach of its obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty of the Equality Act of 2010. The duty says that all public institutions – such as schools – must show “due regard” to how their decisions affect those with “protected characteristics”. Under section 10 of the act, “religion or belief” is listed as one such characteristic. This means that if a school’s RSE content does not take into account the views of religious parents and students, then it could be said to have failed to show “due regard” to the protected characteristic of religious belief. While none of this means that parents have a right to veto content they disagree with, it does give them a right to play a collaborative role in shaping RSE content, including on LGBTQ issues.

Beyond appeals to the law, it is crucial for schools to recognise the socio-communal consequences of not having a healthy dialogue with concerned parents. The record shows that the institutional enforcement of LGBTQ RSE, without proper consultation, only has the counter-productive consequence of undermining inclusivity and communal harmony. When frustration among religious parents at the lack of proper dialogue boils over, it can spill out into the streets in the form of protests, damaging relations between schools and sections of the local community. This has been seen numerous times in recent years in cities like Birmingham, as highlighted above. This then attracts negative media attention which often simplistically labels the parents as ‘regressive’ or ‘extremist’ without considering why they feel compelled to protest in the first place. A collaborative approach between parents and schools would prevent such protests.

Furthermore, the proponents of LGBTQ-friendly school curriculum claim to want to foster solidarity between minority groups, such as Muslims and LGBTQ people, which is an honourable goal. However, not properly including Muslim parents in the RSE curricula formation process, or automatically dismissing their concerns as “homophobic”, only undermines the chances of that very same inter-minority group solidarity that pro-LGBTQ social activists claim to want to foster.

By framing the anxieties of Muslim parents over certain LGBTQ RSE content as somehow indicative of regression, and uncritical acceptance of it on the other hand as symbolic of progression, all that happens is that two vulnerable minority groups end up getting pitched against one another. We must avoid seeing the issue as some philosophical battle between ‘old’ and ‘new’ values. Rather, we should see it as being about what it is: parents simply wanting to play a role in ensuring that their children are educated in accordance with their religious beliefs. After all, this is another legally protected right. Article Two of the First Protocol of the 1998 Human Rights Act clearly stipulates that, “in the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical beliefs”. Schools across the UK should incorporate the above into how such lessons are planned and taught.

Finally, there is good reason to question the effect that some LGBTQ RSE could be having on the psychological development of children. The argument that gender is ‘non-binary’ and has little to do with biology, has become increasingly prominent in recent years. This idea is now taught in primary and secondary schools across the UK, with the active support of LGBTQ organisations. The problem is that it has little grounding in scientific evidence, as was even alluded to recently by the current head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman. As some have argued, there is now a great danger that teaching young children these controversial ideas may serve to confuse, rather than confirm, their conceptions of gender and identity.

Given the above, schools should consult with parents who are uneasy about the direction of certain aspects of LGBTQ RSE curricula. In this light, MEND welcomes the recent letter that was sent to head teachers across the UK by the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, reminding them of their obligation to engage in proper consultation with parents over RSE content, and in particular stressing that parents should be able to see material that is used in such teaching. What this shows is that schools cannot simply cherry-pick the occasions when they discuss LGBTQ RSE content with concerned parents, as some reports have suggested. It is high time for healthy dialogue on this issue.


Find out more about MEND, sign up to our email newsletter

Get all the latest news from MEND straight to your inbox. Sign up to our email newsletter for regular updates and events information