When institutional ethos conflicts with public policy

The University of Wales is currently attracting some criticism over its links with certain colleges that hold to what has been described as a ‘fundamentalist Christian ethos’. In particular, some of the institutions concerned (often operating outside the UK) adhere to the view that homosexuality is morally wrong. The University of Wales validates their degree programmes, and in that sense endorses the content and standards of what is taught.

It has now been reported that some senior academics of the University of Wales plan to make a formal complaint to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, based on their view that the validation of these colleges runs counter to the Equality Act 2010, which requires public bodies to observe the requirement of non-discrimination in relation to a number of categories, one of which is sexual orientation.

If this complaint goes ahead it will address something that is more widespread than just overseas-based fundamentalist Christian colleges. There are numerous indigenous educational institutions that are based on particular religious or other cultural principles, and some of these could be seen as problematic. For example, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam also regard homosexuality as morally wrong, and the Roman Catholic church also reserves its ordained ministry for men only. This ethos is no doubt visible in at least some of the educational establishments that are maintained by them, which in turn either are public bodies or are institutionally linked to them.

There is in this a clash between the ethos of the state as set out in legislation and public policy, and the ethos of these and other institutions. How should the state deal with this? Is it a matter of freedom of speech and conscience that should be protected, or where at least an expression of something that deviates from public policy should be tolerated in the interests of cultural diversity? Or should the principles of equality to which the state is committed trump that? If that is so, it will affect more than just the validation arrangements of the University of Wales.

Often these matters are allowed to be obscured in creative ambiguity, whereby respect for inherited cultural and religious principles gives some leeway to the maintenance of an ethos that might otherwise be suspect. On the other hand, it is difficult to see what the point is of non-0discroimination principles that do not appear to apply to some of the bodies most inclined not to observe them. This is particularly significant in educational institutions, which will influence future generations.

It seems to me to be right to allow people to hold and express their religious beliefs; but that this must stop short of funding the teaching of those beliefs where they conflict with principles of equality and justice. Christians have often been at the heart of campaigns to protect and advance human rights, in line with the key messages of the New Testament. That is still the dominant ethos of Christianity. It should not be undermined by state tolerance of discriminatory principles held by some groups within it.

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17 Comments on “When institutional ethos conflicts with public policy”

  1. […] “The University of Wales is currently attracting some criticism over its links with certain colleges that hold to what has been described as a ‘fundamentalist Christian ethos’. In particular, some of the institutions concerned (often operating outside the UK) adhere to the view that homosexuality is morally wrong …” (more) […]

  2. Vincent Says:

    if the repugnant attitude is not part and parcel of what is being validated how is it anyones business. While if they are not attempting to outright deny surely any historiographical tweaking going on is simply part of the Art and should include a snide comment or two about Miletus. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miletus
    The only limits placed should conform to the limits on promoting Hate Crime.

  3. Tony Says:

    Or closer to your new home

  4. Mary B Says:

    Personally I find it very annoying when ‘Christian’ is conflated with ‘anti-gay’ or anti anything else for that matter… Every Easter I reread the New Testament to remind myself what the Gospel writers said JC REALLY said, rather than what his followers think the Gospels said (I think that’s clear ;o). Some of it is actually rather scary, especially if you are a banker – there’s nothing about sexual orientation! But seriously, I often wonder which version of their Holy Book fundamentalists of any colouration HAVE read.

    • anna notaro Says:

      Mary, you only need to listen to the regular pronouncements f the Pope on sexual mores to understand why Christian is justifiably, to my mind, conflated with anti-gay, unless you regard him as well as a fundamentalist…

      • Vincent Says:

        There is a difference Anna between the tradition of the Christian and that of the Roman. The anti Greek aspect of the church derives from edicts issued by Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus when speaking with the hat of the Pontiflex Maximus to the issue where the Roman Citizenry were not breeding. Where he came at the problem through the regulation of the public morals part of the Big-bridgebuilder duties.

        • anna notaro Says:

          I am no experent on homosexuality in ancient Rome or Greece Vincent, however I do tend to agree with you in that Christianity re-used and refashioned much of the previous cultural pagan traditions, I seem to recall though that in the ancient world there was no clear gender dichotomy as understood in modern times..

      • Rachel Says:

        Of course Ratzinger is a fundamentalist! They don’t come much more fundamentalist than him …

        • anna notaro Says:

          that is exactly what I implied Rachel…

          • Vincent Says:

            Yes he is a fundamentalist. But in the Roman tradition. He is remarkably open theologically. And by far the best brain in that job for a hundred years or more.

          • Rachel Says:

            Vincent – many people have said that he is “very intelligent”, “best brain” etc. I confess I find this a bit hard to take, given (for example) his misogyny, homophobia, failure to deal with various failures in the church, etc. You may say that attitudes about other people have nothing to do with intellect, but I have difficulty squaring this with the “he’s very intelligent” thesis. How do you do it?

      • I’m not sure I agree, Anna. Even within the RC church an overwhelming majority of members don’t back the anti-gay, anti-women approach. There are now lots of surveys to underscore that. A good few other churches are even officially much more progressive. There’s more to Christianity than the Pope!

        • anna notaro Says:

          true there is more to Christianity than the Pope, however it would not be a fair depiction to dismiss the relevance that the RC Church has, in terms of sheer numbers, especially in non Western countries for attitudes regards contraception for ex. also my comments (and probably their limitation) stemmed from a first hand knowledge of the influence that the RC Church exercises in the area of sexual mores in Italy with regards to Parliament legislation when it comes to same sex marriage/unions etc. It might be that the label Christian has been hijacked, but this has not happend by some accidental cause!

    • Mary, I’m in agreement with you here. The label ‘Christian’ has been hijacked by some who have distorted the Christian message – which in its essence is one of tolerance and forgiveness.

      • Mary B Says:

        It’s certainly the ‘brand’ I belong to (and I can quote “chapter and verse” in support :o)

  5. Vincent Says:

    I doubt squaring is involved, Rachel. Actually I’d go so far as to say you could add those that Square to that hit list you produced above.
    But to answer your question about how I can say he is more of a mind than any of his predecessors. I read what he has written. You can find some of it here http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/index.htm I find there is little point in producing knee-jerk positions on an organisation that has 1.12billion members. It’s also better to figure out the genesis of their positions if for no other reason than it explains much about the history of Ireland in the first but also the place across the water.

    • Rachel Says:

      I am not a big admirer of the practice of dismissing another person’s views as “knee-jerk positions” just because you don’t share them. I don’t know the basis on which you assume that I have not read anything written by Ratzinger. My comment was about one person, not about 1.12 billion people. Finally, I don’t understand the first part of your comment above, it’s too cryptic for me.

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