British Sociologist Asks 'Why Shouldn't Faith Schools Criticize Gays?'

A British sociologist has denounced a recent effort by the United Kingdom Department of Education to investigate religious schools and their views on homosexuality.

Neil Davenport, head of Sociology at the JFS Sixth Form Centre in London, wrote a column on Thursday asking "Why shouldn't faith schools criticize gays?"

"In a secular society that is supposedly committed to freedom of religion, the really outrageous thing here is that MPs and shrill campaigners are meddling in the values being taught in faith schools," wrote Davenport. "The accusation that faith schools are practising intolerance seems breathtakingly unconvincing, not to mention hypocritical, when one considers that militant atheists are themselves being intolerant of traditional and religious communities and their belief systems."

Davenport went on to argue that the investigation of religious schools on the issue of how "anti-gay" their curriculum might be was "an attack on parental autonomy."

"By investigating how faith schools teach sex and relationships, officialdom is in effect questioning the values parents want to instil in their kids," wrote Davenport.  "Not content with policing the nutritional content of parent-made lunches, now campaigners demand that the moral content of lessons chosen by parents should also be vetted or even outlawed by state snoopers."

Earlier this week, the British Humanist Association told education officials that they had identified at least 19 schools in the United Kingdom that have anti-gay language in their curriculum.  Namely, the BHA noted that these and likely many other religious schools had maintained an education measure from the 1980s that outlawed materials that "promote homosexuality."  This controversial measure, known as Section 28, was repealed in 2003 under then Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party government.

 In the United Kingdom, about a third of state-supported schools are known as "faith schools," which were set up by various Christian churches who can apply with the government for support.

The BHA's complaints are being listened to, as a spokesperson for the Education Department told BBC that they will be "looking into these schools."

Pavan Dhaliwa, head of public affairs for BHA, said in a statement that the secular organization welcomes the department's investigation into the religious schools.

"These schools' policies must urgently be updated and the schools must take steps to ensure that no pupil is discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Dhaliwa.  "While it is correct that schools should not encourage pupils to adopt a particular sexual orientation against their wishes, no school would ever think to force a pupil to be gay or lesbian."

 Regarding concerns over the views of religious communities regarding homosexuality, Davenport wrote that he believed a modern society should be able to tolerate such minority opinions.

"A free society should be strong enough to allow the existence of all sorts of views, prejudices and judgments without recourse to clampdowns or official investigations into such beliefs," wrote Davenport.

"Is the gay-rights lobby now so fearful of minority old-fashioned views that it must demand measures to censor them – the same kind of measures that were once employed against its own members?"

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