LONDON – Church and faith school leaders in the United Kingdom have criticized a bill passing through Parliament that seeks to make sex and relationships education compulsory for schoolchildren from the age of five.
In a letter to The Sunday Telegraph, the faith leaders said parents and guardians should be allowed to bring up their children in accordance with their own values and culture.
They said the Labour Party's Children, Schools and Families Bill undermined this principle and was seeking to "impose a particular ideology" by introducing statutory sex and relationships education, something primary schools do not currently have to teach.
Signatories of the letter included the director of the Family Education Trust, Norman Wells, the Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Rt Rev Brian Noble, and Chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain's Education Committee, Shahid Akmal.
"Parents and guardians have the primary responsibility for bringing up their children in accordance with their own values and culture. A state which seeks to centralize responsibilities which are properly fulfilled by families is acting in an unjust manner and undermines the basis of a free society," they said.
Under the proposed bill, all publicly-funded primary and secondary schools will be forced to teach children as young as five about puberty and relationships in Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education lessons. From the age of seven, children will learn about same-sex relationships, civil partnerships, marriage, divorce and separation, while secondary school children will learn about sexual activity, same-sex relationships, STDs and contraception.
If the government manages to pass the bill before the general election is called, the legislation will come into effect across England in 2011.
The bill covers a other issues including homeschooling. Under the legislation, homeschooling parents will be required to be registered with local authorities and criminal background checks will be mandated for parents who wish to homeschool.
Local governments will also have the authority to monitor homeschooled children.
The bill has faced strong criticism from Christians. The Christian Institute says the legislation "drives liberal values into sex education" and has called the proposed regulation of parents who homeschool their children "excessive."
The Children Schools and Families Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in November.