A criminal records regulator in England has refused to ban a chaplain accused of speaking against LGBTQ+ identity politics at a high school, but his appeal of his dismissal is still pending.
Trent College in Long Eaton, Derbyshire had asked the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to blacklist the Rev. Bernard Randall for challenging LGBTQ+ assertions in a school chapel sermon entitled, “Competing Ideologies” in June 2019.
The DBS in January accepted the minister’s arguments that “hearing challenging ideas is not harmful, and that free speech is actually good for everyone’s personal development,” according to the Christian Legal Centre, which defended his case.
“After consideration of your representations,” the DBS stated in a Jan. 17 letter to Randall, “we have decided it would not be appropriate to include your name on the Children’s Barred List.”
Randall was also cleared by Prevent, a terrorism watchdog, and the Teaching Regulation Authority over the same issue. He had worked at the independent day and boarding school for four years before his sacking.
The former chaplain stated that the sermon happened after some pupils expressed worries about the LGBTQ+ agenda heavily promoted at the school. He voiced his concerns after school staff received diversity and inclusion training by a LGBTQ+ rights charity, Educate & Celebrate (E&C), in September 2018. Dr. Elly Barnes, charity founder, led the session. The training involved staff collectively chanting, “Smash heteronormativity,” which alarmed the chaplain. Heteronormativity is the belief that a heterosexual relationship between a woman and man is the norm in societies.
“The whole concept of Educate and Celebrate is to treat everyone equally and fairly, and really the bottom line is to completely smash heteronormativity,” Barnes said in a promotional video. “That’s what we want to do, so that kids can grow up and be who they are. We are all more productive, and we are all so much happier, when we can be ourselves. So we totally encourage intersectional ways of teaching, lots of pedagogies around usualizing, so making LGBT+ people an everyday occurrence within the school. And that can come through by simply teachers being ‘out,’ it can come through the curriculum, it can come through what you are putting on the walls, so the environment, and how you are engaging with your community, and that’s our goal.”
E&C, now closed down for financial reasons, subsequently awarded the school a silver “Pride in inclusion” award in August 2020.
“You might be concerned that if you take the religious view on these matters,” Randall told pupils in his chapel sermon opposing the E&C guidance, “you will be attacked and accused of homophobia and the like, but remember that religious belief is just as protected in law as sexual orientation, and no one has the right to discriminate against you or be abusive towards you.”
College officials later told the chaplain the message undermined the school’s LGBTQ+ support and suspended him.
“I couldn’t comprehend how I had done anything so wrong that I needed to be suspended,” he said in an interview with the Christian Legal Centre. “Ruffled a few feathers maybe, but then sometimes as a Christian minister, that’s your job. But suspended? I couldn’t make any sense of it. That felt as though the world was going mad and falling apart.”
The referral as a potential terrorist to Prevent, the government watchdog for counter terrorism, caused anxiety for the minister, who feared police breaking down his door.
Randall took the college to an initial employment tribunal for discrimination, harassment, victimization and unfair dismissal on Jan. 28, 2020. The claim was then amended to allege victimization and unfair dismissal on April 28, 2021, and the subsequent employment tribunal concluded on Sept. 22. In her reserved judgement, Employment Judge Victoria Butler wrote that the decision to dismiss the minister was based on a genuine need by the school to not employ a chaplain.
“The financial situation aside, the school made the decision that it could deliver its faith provision without an employed chaplain, and this remains the case to date,” she wrote. “In the absence of the identification of alternative employment, the claimant was dismissed by reason of redundancy and, as above, we are satisfied that there were genuine grounds for doing so, and this was the reason for his dismissal.”
The decision against his appeal was published on Feb. 21, 2023, but the former chaplain is appealing that judgment.
A school inspection report by the Independent Schools Inspectorate in November 2021 praised the ability of pupils to appreciate and understand those from different faiths or cultures. “A highly developed respect of other faiths and beliefs is embedded throughout the college,” noted the report. “In a PSHE [personal, social, health and economic education] lesson, pupils displayed a mature understanding of a range of examples of religious persecution around the world.”
Pupils showed a sense of the college’s “Christian values ,” alongside “promoting equality and celebrating diversity.” The youngsters showed willingness in signing a pledge that “We all Belong,” according to the report.
“Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) groups such as the Pride Team, and pupils that are affirming their gender identity, feel free to go about their daily business in an atmosphere of equality and normality,” added the report, “supported by the well-embedded relationships and sex education (RSE) programme that challenges all gender stereotypes.
“An overwhelming majority of parents and pupils who commented in the questionnaire agreed that the school actively promotes respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs and for any with protected characteristics.”
The E&C program adopted by the college included staff reviewing school policies to ensure representation of LGBTQ+ beliefs and inclusive terminology. Subject areas faced an overhaul for similar reasons. LGBTQ+ marketing material in posters and displays were displayed across campus. Parents also engaged in events in the program.
“Social media played a key role,” a Trent College press release said, “celebrating the successes of the programme from the Rainbow Pride Bake-Off and LGBTQ+ themed House Shout to other in-school events.”
The former school chaplain voiced his sadness that the Church of England (C of E) continues to blacklist him over the issue “and label its own teaching as a risk factor.”
“I would not be where I am now if E&C had not been invited into Trent College, it is as simple as that,” he added. “As an ordained C of E minister working as a chaplain in a school with a C of E ethos, it was my duty to encourage debate and help children who were confused by the LGBT+ teaching to know that there are alternative views and beliefs on these contentious issues.
“I take no joy in E&C being closed down; but I am pleased the wider world is catching up to the kind of thing I was trying to warn against.”
By blacklisting him as a “safeguarding risk to children,” he said, the C of E at the highest level, and locally, was complicit in allowing the “far-left queer theory agenda of E&C and similar groups in our schools.”
“I am aghast at how the courts have painted me and my Christian beliefs as the problem, when it has so clearly been exposed that E&C have been the danger to children,” he said.“It is very concerning that a group like E&C has been funded by the government and given so much access and influence. There is still a long way to go, but I hope that this is a significant step in enabling our children to grow up without this ideology being pushed on them. They must be able to make up their own minds.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, accused some C of E leaders of throwing “one of their own under the bus.” She said she believed that E&C pushed a “harmful and dangerous ideology” to children.
“In his sermon, Bernard shared the Bible’s teaching on marriage and human nature,” Williams said. “He explained that Christians are always called to love their neighbor no matter how much they might disagree. E&C, and groups like them, encourage children to ‘smash heteronormativity’ and teach about the Gender Identity Unicorn. Who are the extremists and danger to children here?
“The danger now, however, is that E&C will reappear under a different guise, as Ofsted [the national school inspectorate] has said they have no power to prevent such groups from going into our schools. The government must take firmer action to prevent any group like this having access to our schools again.”