Faith-based universities told to clarify 'Christian ethos' to employees

Universities in Britain with Church of England foundations have been told to highlight their Christian beliefs to make it easier to discipline or dismiss people working for them should they openly express ideas that contradict core principles.

According to a report in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), universities including Chichester, Canterbury Christ Church, Winchester and York St John have been offered the advice by the Council of Church Colleges and Universities (CCCU).

The CCCU advised universities to ensure they highlighted their "Christian ethos" when offering employment contracts so that it would be clear to potential employees that the establishment followed certain beliefs, and that if they were to "openly flout" these beliefs they could be found in breach of their contracts.

The latest development could add fuel to existing concerns that faith schools discriminate on the grounds of their basis of faith.

The CCCU advice states: "If an employee acts in a way that is detrimental to the employer, by openly flouting the ethos...it may be possible to conclude that there has been a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence."

According to the THES, the General Secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, said that the advice was deeply disturbing.

"This report obliquely suggests ways of ensuring that some positions are not held by those whose lifestyle is at odds with some Christian doctrine, presumably in terms of sexual orientation, attitudes to abortion and maybe even to marriage," she said.

Although the advice has renewed concerns among critics, others believe that the CCCU is legitimately encouraging universities to clarify their beliefs to staff and establish a "genuine occupational requirement", which would allow faith-based educational establishments to avoid being found in breach of employment rules.

The statement implies the genuine need for an employee of a faith school to have certain beliefs for them to properly fulfil their role in employment, and to serve, rather than hinder the mission of the establishment.

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