A school chaplain who was fired from his job and reported to the government’s counter-terrorism watchdog for delivering a sermon questioning the school’s LGBT policies, says in a media interview that his world “fell apart” after he was accused of being a terrorist.
The Rev. Bernard Randall, 48, told Premier Christian News that he discovered that he had been referred in 2019 to the counter-terrorism watchdog, Prevent, as he was going through the documentation related to the disciplinary action over his sermon at Trent College, a Church of England school.
“It’s not as if they sat me down and said, ‘This is what we feel we have to do.’ I found that, as it were, by accident and all of a sudden, my world falls apart because I’m being accused of being a terrorist, which is just about the worst thing you can accuse anybody of in our society on the basis of I knew not what. It was just extraordinary,” Randall is quoted as saying.
He was dismissed from school for gross misconduct and reported to the counter-terrorism program after he told students, aged 11 to 17, that they were not compelled to “accept an ideology they disagree with.” He also told the students that they could make up their own minds about gender identity and sexuality.
In the 2019 sermon, he referred to a new LGBT-inclusive curriculum at the school because a student asked him to talk about it, he says.
The teaching material from the “Educate and Celebrate” curriculum was adopted after a visit by Elly Barnes, founder of Educate & Celebrate, an LGBT education charity. The material aims to “equip you and your communities with the knowledge, skills and confidence to embed gender, gender identity and sexual orientation into the fabric of your organization.”
Although the police ruled that he was not a “counter-terrorism risk” or at “risk of radicalization” in his case two years ago, the chaplain said that being thought of as a terrorist “is still a wound.”
Randall recalled, “Fortunately, it was only a few days before the disciplinary hearing where I was given a chance to ask questions, and I said as part of that, ‘Do you think the Church of England is a terrorist organization?’ to which the (headteacher) said, ‘Well, no. And oh, we probably should have told you that Prevent referral came back with no further action required.’”
His dismissal was also overturned on appeal, but he said earlier that he was forbidden from speaking on topics “likely to cause offense or distress to members of the school body,” and was told not to “publicly express beliefs in ways which exploit our pupils’ vulnerability.”
Despite the prolonged trauma, the chaplain said he has become more vocal as a Christian.
“The bizarre thing about being reported to Prevent, which is supposed to tackle violent extremism, is that it has pushed me a bit toward being more radical about the importance of free speech. It’s not violent extremism, but it’s made me much more aware of that as an issue. It’s slightly ironic, I’m now more likely to speak about it than I was before,” he said.
“I think, as a Christian in particular, speaking about truth is really important, as Jesus said, ‘I am the way the truth and the life.’”
Randall has taken Trent College to court for discrimination, harassment, victimization and unfair dismissal.