A school chaplain lost his job at a Christian school and was reported to the government’s counter-terrorism watchdog, Prevent, after telling students they were not compelled to “accept an ideology they disagree with”, his lawyers say.
Rev Dr Bernard Randall, 48, is taking Trent College to court for discrimination, harassment, victimisation and unfair dismissal.
He says he preached a sermon on the biblical view of gender identity and same-sex relationships after being approached by students who were confused and upset by some of the material being taught in a new LGBT-inclusive curriculum at the school.
The curriculum was introduced at the independent school after a visit by Dr Elly Barnes, founder of Educate & Celebrate, an LGBT+ education charity.
Dr Barnes held training with staff on how they could “embed gender, gender identity and sexual orientation into the fabric of your school”, he says.
Dr Randall said he became alarmed when staff were instructed during the training session to chant “smash heteronormativity”, and told that gender identity is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
He says that when he raised concerns, he was told by the head teacher that he would be involved in any decision on whether the school would implement the Educate & Celebrate programme, but he discovered at the following staff training day in January 2019 that it had already been adopted.
When he asked why he had not been included in discussions, he says it was because he “might disagree”.
In a sermon called ‘Competing ideologies’, Dr Randall presented the Christian view on gender identity, encouraged debate and told the students, aged 11 to 17, that no characteristic in the Equality Act was more protected than another.
He also told the students that they could make up their own minds about gender identity and sexuality.
The following week, he was told that his sermon had hurt people’s feelings and that he was being suspended pending an investigation. He was also reported to Prevent, which deals with terrorism threats, and the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO), the point of contact for child protection allegations.
In August 2019, he was informed by the school that he was being dismissed for gross misconduct.
Although his dismissal was overturned on appeal, he says he was forbidden from speaking on topics “likely to cause offence or distress to members of the school body”, and was told not to “publicly express beliefs in ways which exploit our pupils’ vulnerability”.
He says the school also required that he submit a draft sermon in advance for approval and that an observer be present during services.
Dr Randall said he was “terrified” and unabled to sleep when he found out he had been reported to Prevent.
What was I supposed to tell my family? Being reported as a potential terrorist, extremist and a danger to children are arguably the worst crimes you could be accused of,” he said.
“When I found out that they had reported me without telling me, my mind was blown trying to comprehend it. I had gone to such lengths in the sermon to stress that we must respect one another no matter what, even people we disagree with. I am not ashamed to say that I cried with relief when I was told that the report to Prevent was not going to be taken further.
“Yet I ended up being told that I had to support everybody else’s beliefs, no matter what, while my Christian beliefs, the Church of England’s beliefs, were blatantly censored.”
He continued, “I don’t think the Church of England is an extremist organisation.
“I was doing the job I was employed to do. I wasn’t saying anything that I should not have been able to say in any liberal secular institution. Everyone should be free to accept or reject an ideology. Isn’t that what liberal democracy means?”
Dr Randall was placed on furlough during the first national lockdown in March 2020 but was later made redundant last December.
“My story sends a message to other Christians that you are not free to talk about your faith. It seems it is no longer enough to just ‘tolerate’ LGBT ideology,” he said.
“You must accept it without question and no debate is allowed without serious consequences. Someone else will decide what is and what isn’t acceptable, and suddenly you can become an outcast, possibly for the rest of your life.
“I one hundred per cent see what has happened to me in Orwellian terms. Truth matters, but increasingly powerful groups in our society do not care about the truth.
“My career and life are in tatters. I believe that if this is the Cross that I have to carry to help prevent others from experiencing the same as me, I have no choice but to pursue justice.”
East Midlands Employment Tribunal is expected to hear his case from 14 June.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is defending Dr Randall said: “When an ordained Church of England minister can’t give a simple sermon in a Church of England school without being reported as an extremist and hounded out of his job then who is safe?
“For many years Bernard Randall has worked in education motivated by his love for God and others.
“When someone like him is pursued and punished it’s an attack on us all. It’s time to stand up and speak up for these freedoms.
“Is this the kind of behaviour we expect from those with the care and protection of our children?
“Now is the time for ordinary people to wake up and contend for vital freedoms.
“All those that said it couldn’t happen – punishing and criminalising a Christian minister for preaching from the bible – need to take a long, hard look at the story of Bernard Randall.
“Who are the extremists in this story? The moderate school chaplain with an intelligent, mild mannered and thoughtful sermon or Educate and Celebrate encouraging staff to smash heteronormativity?”