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Chris McGovern: Burnham shows his dictatorial streak. He wants to ride roughshod over religious belief


Labour leadership candidate, Andy Burnham, wishes to make it illegal for schools, including faith schools, to disagree with his views on homosexuality. He has told PinkNews, the LGBT website, that “…not only should SRE [Sex and Relationships Education] be absolutely compulsory, but there must be absolute equality in terms of all relationships within sex and relationships education in terms of how it is taught.”

If Andy gets his way, all schools will be required to teach about the equality of ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’. Many people will agree with him. Unfortunately, many, especially those with sincerely held religious beliefs, will disagree.  They may be understanding and tolerant of homosexuals but, as a matter of faith, they will be unable to accept moral equivalence.

According to Andy, those who disagree with him are “straightforwardly wrong”. He singles out the Roman Catholic Church for particular criticism: “I have no support for their position on the issue. None at all.”  Strangely, though, he makes no reference to other faiths, including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or Sikhism. With the exception of some Anglicans, the position of these religions differs little, if at all, from that of Catholics and of other Christians.

Perhaps Andy feels that his own Catholic background gives him some sort of special dispensation to attack Rome. Or does he simply not have the guts to ride roughshod over other minority groups holding similar views to Catholics, for fear of stirring up a hornet’s nest? The Christian virtue of ‘meekness’ makes them a ready target for the bullying, abuse and intolerance of politicians – especially ‘wannabe’ political leaders.

Within the law, of course, Andy Burnham is free to attack religious conviction. However, in a democratic society, he should not feel free to outlaw religious belief because it does not coincide with his own views. Such a stance is totalitarianism and does not differ, fundamentally, from those 73 countries around the world that take a position in the opposite direction to his by outlawing homosexuality; in some cases on pain of death.

Andy’s desire to ban religious belief from schools seems to extend to freedom for schools more generally. He does not trust teachers, parents and local communities, acting within the law, to decide what is best for their children. He told PinkNews:

“I worry about an education policy that is making the academy or the free school judge and jury – letting it basically do what it wants. It’s the danger with this policy is that you move more and more away from the comprehensive ideal, and more and more towards their own curriculum, their own take on things, their own slant on the curriculum… I think that is a worrying development in education.”

A few weeks ago Andy Burnham and I were in ITV headquarters and we shared a lift between floors in the building. I must confess that I did not feel that I was standing next to a ‘would be’ dictator of moral conscience. But, then, it always was the banality of dictators that makes them so disturbing.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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