BACK in 2019, Cornerstone (North East) Adoption and Fostering Service, which works exclusively with evangelical Christian carers, was downgraded from ‘Good’ to ‘requires Improvement’ by UK education watchdog Ofsted.
Ofsted demanded that the agency abandon its religious ethos and accused Cornerstone, headed by Pam Birtle, above, of unlawful discrimination for only recruiting evangelical Christian carers and requiring carers to abide by its code of conduct on living consistently with the charity’s Christian beliefs about marriage between a man and a woman.
With the help of The Christian Institute, Cornerstone, the only Christian Fostering Agency in the UK, mounted a court challenge – and lost.
Last Friday, it suffered a second blow when the Court of Appeal upheld the earlier ruling that found inspectors were correct to penalise Cornerstone for failing to comply with the Equality Act 2010.
The judgment was welcomed by the National Secular Society, which pointed out that last year Justice Julian Knowles ruled that Cornerstone’s policy was unlawful. He said the law:
Requires Cornerstone to accept gay men and lesbian women as potential foster carers.
Exemptions in the Equality Act which allow religious organisations to discriminate against gay people in some circumstances do not apply because Cornerstone performs functions on behalf of public authorities, the judge said.
Cornerstone appealed the decision at the Court of Appeal in June.
NSS head of policy and research Megan Manson said the latest ruling was:
A welcome affirmation of LGBT+ equality. We are relieved that the Court of Appeal has upheld the previous ruling: that religion cannot be used by foster agencies to justify discrimination against same-sex couples.
As the judge said, discriminating against people because of who they love is detrimental to individuals and to society. For this reason, religious fundamentalism must not be allowed to trump equality law.
Cornerstone is an evangelical Christian registered charity which says it provides:
An adoption and fostering child care service according to Christian principles.
It is funded primarily from payments made by local authorities when they place a child for fostering.
Cornerstone’s policy for foster carers stipulates they must attend church regularly, and avoid “all sexual sins” including cohabitation and “wilful violation of your birth sex”, in addition to “homosexual behaviour”.
Freedom of Information requests made by the NSS in 2020 revealed that Sunderland City Council made 33 referrals to Cornerstone between 2015 and April 2020.
The NSS also found Durham County Council gave Cornerstone a total of £17,294 in 2017-18.
Cornerstone, according to the Christian Institute, now intends taking the matter to the Supreme Court. Birtle said:
We are convinced that equality law protects our ability to operate in a distinctively evangelical way. For the law to do any less would be a breach of human rights and a denial of the values of a liberal democracy.
I do this work because I believe in it with all my heart. I was in the care system myself as a teenager and have been a social worker, foster carer and adopter over the last 40 years. I believe we are called by God Himself to show the love of Christ to all people, including people who are LGBT, through doing this work in a uniquely Christian way.
We invite Christians to join us in praying that a better accommodation will be found that allows evangelicals to play their full part in British public life without unjust restrictions being imposed on them.
The CI’s Deputy Director for Public Affairs, Simon Calvert, above, added:
What the court has done today, in the name of opposing discrimination, is actually to support discrimination by a powerful state regulator against a small voluntary group.
This shocking defence of state over-reach in religious matters fundamentally misunderstands the nature of Christianity.
Most people understand the nature of Christianity only too well, which is why more and more people are rejecting it.
In Switzerland, for example, Christian conservatives and nationalists who opposed same-sex marriage were dealt a devastating blow yesterday (Sunday) when Swiss voters overwhelmingly backed same-sex marriage in a referendum. “Marriage For All” was adopted with 64.1% of votes in favour, according to the Federal office for Statistics, with none of Switzerland’s 26 cantons voting against it.
And in the European microstate of San Marino voters have voted overwhelmingly to legalise abortion. Around 77 percent of voters backed the decision, while nearly 23 percent said no.
The move would overturn a law dating back to 1865, which has made San Marino one of the last places in Europe where abortion is completely banned.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn (Swiss and San Marino reports)