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High Court rejects Ofsted recommendation that Christian adoption agency must abandon evangelical ethos

by Premier Journalist

The High Court has ruled a Christian adoption agency must be permitted to work only with evangelical Christian carers in accordance with its statement of faith. 

The decision vindicates fostering and adoption agency 'Cornerstone (North East)' after it took legal action against government regulator Ofsted for trying to force them to abandon their religious beliefs when hiring. Following an inspection, Ofsted accused Cornerstone of unlawful discrimination because the agency only recruits evangelical Christian carers.

Ofsted also argued that it was discriminatory for Cornerstone to require its carers to abide by its code of conduct on living consistently with the charity’s Christian beliefs regarding marriage between a man and a woman. 

In the court's latest judgement, Mr Justice Julian Knowles rejected Ofsted’s assertion that Cornerstone’s recruitment policy unlawfully discriminates by requiring carer applicants to be evangelical Christians. He noted that Ofsted’s decision to include this in their report was “wrong as a matter of law” and “erroneous”.

The judgment added:

“Cornerstone is permitted to exclusively recruit evangelical Christian carers because of the exemption in [2] to Sch 23 to the [Equality Act] 2010 for religious organisations.

“Cornerstone’s recruitment policy does not violate Article 14 of the Convention read with Article 8, as given effect by s 6 of the [Human Rights Act] 1998, insofar as it requires carer applicants to be evangelical Christians.”

As a result of the ruling, Ofsted is required to amend its inspection report. 

The judge did however disagree with an earlier assertion from the Charity Commission that Cornerstone does not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation by requiring sexual conduct that aligns with the Christian faith. He also noted that the exception in the Equality Act 2010 permitting religious organisations to impose restrictions on grounds of sexual orientation does not apply to Cornerstone because the agency recruits its carers under contract with local authorities.

Cornerstone rejected the notion that its recruitment process is non-compliant with equality and human rights legislation.

In response to the ruling, the agency's chairwoman, Reverend Sheila Bamber, said:

“The judgment justifies our decision to pursue this legal action. Our right to support Christian families in providing the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children and young people has been upheld.

“But I am saddened that the fundamental place of biblically based Christian marriage in our beliefs has not been recognised. We will carefully and prayerfully consider how to continue our vocation and work to create forever families”.

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