Could Implementation of ‘British Values’ Backfire on Catholic Education?
by KEVIN J. JONES
The U.K .government’s actions follow reports that extremist Muslim groups were trying to infiltrate schools.
Some Catholics in Great Britain are concerned the government’s push for “British values” in schools, meant to counter Islamist extremism, could instead harm sincere religious believers and burden Catholic schools.
In a July 20 speech at Ninestiles school in Birmingham, the British prime minister, David Cameron, said, “We believe in respecting different faiths but also expecting those faiths to support the British way of life. These are British values. … Our freedom comes from our parliamentary democracy.”
The speech was intended to lay down his administration’s strategy for tackling Islamist extremism in the country but could be construed so as to limit the ability of any religious believer to exercise their freedoms of speech and religion.
“The government needs to avoid classing anyone who takes their religion or faith seriously, especially Christians, as potentially harmful extremists. Catholics must not be forced to act against their religious conscience, either in schools or in the workplaces,” Caroline Farrow, a member of Catholic Voices UK and a columnist for the Catholic Universe newspaper, told CNA July 24.
She said Cameron, who is leading the anti-extremism push, should remember to protect freedom of speech.
“He needs to take care that the British way of life does not come to mean that those of a religious persuasion are silenced out of fear.”
The British government has begun to require the promotion of “British values” in all schools. The actions follow reports that extremist Muslim groups were trying to infiltrate schools.
In his July 20 speech, the prime minister spoke about “the threat of extremism and the challenge of integration.”
Cameron specifically addressed the “far right” and Islamist extremism, though he also acknowledged the “profound contributions” of non-extremist Muslims.
He did not limit his speech to attacking violent extremism. He also criticized non-violent support for “certain intolerant ideas, which create a climate in which extremists can flourish.” He listed ideas “which are hostile to basic liberal values, such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality,” and ideas “which actively promote discrimination, sectarianism and segregation.”
Farrow voiced concern that some definitions of British values can pose problems for Catholics.
“While Catholics believe in the equality of the sexes, the term ‘sexual equality’ is also applied to matters of sexuality. This could be applied so broadly that it could include things that Catholics do not agree with, such as, for example, the country’s recent redefinition of marriage, which allows for same-sex weddings.”
She noted that the promotion of “British values” has already posed risks for Catholic schools. These schools face censure by the U.K. schools’ inspectorate Ofsted “if Catholic teaching, especially on sexuality and marriage, is deemed to be undermining British values and promoting so-called extremism,” Farrow said.
The high-performing St. Benedict’s Catholic School in Suffolk was downgraded because its students allegedly were not aware of the dangers of extremism. The school was “blacklisted” for failing to promote British values, according to Farrow.
The Catholic Education Service of the Bishops’ Conference in England and Wales demanded an apology for the move. The school said parents complained that the inspectors asked children as young as 10 about homosexual acts and transsexualism, the Catholic Herald reported.
The British Department for Education has implemented requirements for teaching “fundamental British values.” The department’s November 2014 guidance added stronger language that requires schools actively to promote what it sees as British values. The rules require all schools to promote equality and diversity, as defined by the education department’s guidance. This requirement includes “challenging opinions or behaviors in school.”
Farrow voiced concern for the future of Catholic schools.