Education

Integration tsar Dame Louise Casey has a problem with ‘religious conservatism’

In 2013 Dame Louise Casey was named by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour as one of the Top 100 most powerful women in the UK. She was duly appointed by David Cameron and Theresa May to examine issues of community cohesion, extremism and integration. Her report – The Casey Review – sounds deafening alarm bells and offers a few cogent solutions. “We need to be much bolder in not just celebrating our history, heritage and culture, but standing up for our democratically decided upon laws of the land,” she summarised for the Telegraph. “I have become convinced that it is only the upholding of our core British laws, cultures, values and traditions that will offer us the route map through the different and complex challenge of creating a cohesive society.”

Which is all well and good, until you examine what she means by “core” values.

In oral evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee this week (video HERE), she expounded some of her beliefs about faith schools (that is, schools with a religious foundation, which have considerably expanded under the process of academisation and the establishment of Free Schools). She said:

More importantly, when does a teacher running a secular school say, “No, it’s fine for you not to do theatre,” or music or those sorts of thing? When is that okay? I do not really have any view on which religion it is that it is promoting those sorts of views, but they are not okay, in the same way that it is not okay for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage. That is not okay either—it is not how we bring children up in this country. It is often veiled as religious conservatism, and I have a problem with the expression “religious conservatism”, because often it can be anti-equalities.

And so, in Louise Casey’s secular world, religious orthodoxy – which some might term religious conservatism – must be subsumed to the overarching ‘equalities’ agenda, which then becomes the superior moral framework by which society is regulated. Millennia of moral teachings on, for example, normative sexuality or societal beliefs about the nature and purpose of marriage must conform to the new egalitarian social-justice imperative. Of course, ‘homophobia’ and ‘anti-gay marriage’ are in the eye of the beholder: for some, a rational argument for the maintenance of the Anglican marriage liturgy is ‘homophobic’; the exclusively male Roman Catholic priesthood is ‘sexist’; to question any aspect of Mohammed’s character or action is ‘Islamophobic’, and so on. One may no longer argue for the values of religious conservatism without the forefinger of bigotry being prodded directly into one’s forehead. And Louise Casey – whose whole political mission is virtuously dedicated to integration and social cohesion – has just jabbed another finger (not quite the middle one) at all those who call themselves religious conservatives, for “often” they invoke that very term to cloak their anti-equalities bigotry in a shroud of holiness.

The curious thing is that schools were specifically told that they may do this. There is official guidance on the matter from the DfE, and in 2012 Michael Gove, then Secretary of State for Education, was perfectly clear:

The education provisions of the Equality Act 2010 which prohibit discrimination against individuals based on their protected characteristics (including their sexual orientation) do not extend to the content of the curriculum. Any materials used in sex and relationship education lessons, therefore, will not be subject to the discrimination provisions of the act.

There is a manifest freedom conflict here, and one which Louise Casey is incrementally shunting towards less freedom for faith-based schools. The fact that she singles out Roman Catholic schools is telling. And the fact that she then proceeds to frame them with epithets of homophobia is even more telling. Was Pope Benedict XVI homophobic when he said that homosexuality is a “strong tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder”? May the teachings of the Pope Emeritus no longer be taught in Roman Catholic schools? Is it “anti-gay marriage” to teach that God’s plan for marriage is that of a life-long union between one man and one woman for the creation and nurture of children? Are the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and many free-church liturgies “anti-gay marriage”?

It appears that schools are free to ‘do God’ provided that its divine precepts accord with the values and human rights prescribed by the Secretary of State (or the overarching European Court of Human Rights). Faith schools which were once free to regulate themselves in order to foster moral virtue and intellectual capacity must now be regulated by ‘British values’. As Barry Sheerman MP observed back in 2007:

It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith. But as soon as there is a more doctrinaire attitude questions have to be asked. It does become worrying when you get a new push from more fundamentalist bishops. This is taxpayers’ money after all.

And so ‘fundamentalist’ bishops (priests/rabbis/imams/granthis/acharya) are not free to ‘do God’ in state schools, and the Integration Tsar will exhort the Secretary of State to intervene (or, indeed, close) a school which fails to inculcate the ‘moderate’ values she prescribes, lest they become anything like the Muslim ‘Trojan Horse’ schools in Birmingham. In fact, all faith-based schools are now tarnished with the ‘Trojan Horse’ association, for what do religiously conservative teachers seek to do but propagate religious bigotry? And so religiously conservative groups are only free to ‘do God’ in free schools provided they don’t propagate a robust apprehension of moral orthodoxy, or believe anything ‘extremist’ too strongly.

Louise Casey favours the introduction of an oath of allegiance in order to foster integration, which makes perfect sense for immigrants. In the wake of the Casey Review, Sajid Javid’s rather authoritarian proposal is that all those who hold public office must also swear this oath, which would include a commitment to uphold “belief in equality, democracy and the democratic process”. Note how ‘equality’ hangs with democracy. “We can’t expect new arrivals to embrace British values if those of us who are already here don’t do so ourselves, and such an oath would go a long way to making that happen,” he explained.

How may Christians with any integrity could swear allegiance to a politico-philosophical concept which shifts from year to year and morphs to the zeitgeist? Would public servants who swore such an oath in (say) 2010 – then perfectly content to uphold equality on the basis of race, sex, sexuality, religion and disability – now be obliged by virtue of that that oath to uphold ‘equal marriage’ ex post? What if ‘equalities’ went on to include (for example) criteria such as income (as in a national maximum wage), or educational outcome (as in equalising the results of examinations), or children’s political representation (with votes at 16, 14 or 12, and quotas to ensure a proportion of under-18s in Parliament)? Would Dame Louise Casey then invoke her ‘political conservatism’ to shroud her anti-social justice prejudice?