Anti-Gay Literature Sparks Row Over State-Funded Faith Schools

Family Matters on 02.21.12
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As witnessed by the unholy row over a religious-themed school banner, the intersect between religion and education is often a contentious one. That's true even in non-public schools, and it's one of the reasons why I would not send my children to Catholic school. But when religion and the state-funded public school system intertwine, things can get really messy.That's become increasingly apparent in the UK where The Guardian reports that education secretary Mike Gove is under pressure to act over anti-gay literature that is being used in state-funded Catholic schools (note also the not-so-subtle swipe at contraception too):

The booklet, "Pure Manhood: How to become the man God wants you to be", discusses a boy dealing with "homosexual attractions" which it suggested may "stem from an unhealthy relationship with his father, an inability to relate to other guys, or even sexual abuse".

The booklet, which claims that "scientifically speaking, safe sex is a joke", explains that "the homosexual act is disordered, much like contraceptive sex between heterosexuals. Both acts are directed against God's natural purpose for sex – babies and bonding."

Unlike in the States, England has a long tradition of state funding for religious schools - most notably the Church of England Schools like the one I attended as a kid. That tradition has recently been expanded, with other faiths taking an increasing role in public education. With that expansion comes potential for conflict, because what a strict adherence to these faiths teaches is often at odds with what we know about human sexuality, not to mention science in general. (Battles over teaching evolution are rapidly expanding into fights over climate science too.)

The freedom of people of faith to teach their own views of human sexuality in private schools, at home or in their congregations is one thing - although I remain convinced that a quick peruse of Why Can't I Own a Canadian is all the evidence we need that a fundamentalist approach to sex and morality is as dangerous as it is inherently contradictory. But when government money is used, then those teachings should remain rooted in an evidence-based approach to promoting a safe, healthy and inclusive attitude to human sexuality. If that is not possible within the context of faith-based education, then it is time to rethink the entire notion of state funding for religiously informed education.

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