May a fostering agency recruit only heterosexual Evangelicals?: Cornerstone

Cornerstone is an independent fostering agency offering foster and permanent homes to children in the care of local authorities. It is founded on, and operates according to, Evangelical Christian principles and only recruits carers, staff and volunteers who will abide by its Statement of Beliefs and Code of Practice: Evangelical Christians who refrain from ‘homosexual behaviour’. In practice, it only accepts Evangelical married heterosexual couples and regards any other form of sexual activity as sinful [2].

Ofsted inspected Cornerstone in 2019 and concluded that Cornerstone’s recruitment policy violated various provisions of the Equality Act 2010 and the European Convention on Human Rights read with the Human Rights Act 1998. It required Cornerstone to change its policy and in R (Cornerstone (North East) Adoption And Fostering Service Ltd) v The Office for Standards In Education, Children’s Services And Skills [2020] EWHC 1679 (Admin), Cornerstone challenged Ofsted’s conclusions [4].

Julian Knowles J held as follows [313]:

a. Cornerstone’s recruitment policy was not unlawfully discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010 on the grounds of religious belief (a point that Ofsted had not disputed): Cornerstone was permitted to recruit Evangelical Christian carers exclusively because of the exemption in [2] to Sch.23 to the Equality Act 2010 for religious organisations.

b. Cornerstone’s recruitment policy was unlawfully discriminatory, in breach of s. 29(1) of the Equality Act 2010 or alternatively, s.29(6), in both cases read with s.13 and/or s.19, insofar as it required applicants to refrain from “homosexual behaviour”: the policy discriminated unlawfully, directly or indirectly, against gay men and lesbians – and the disapplication of the general exemption in [2(3)] of Sch.23 provided by [2(10)] applied because Cornerstone performed functions on behalf of public authorities pursuant to contract.

c. Cornerstone’s recruitment policy did not violate Article 14 ECHR read with Article 8, as given effect by s.6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, insofar as it required carer applicants to be Evangelical Christians.

d. Cornerstone’s recruitment policy did violate Article 14 ECHR read with Article 8, as given effect by s.6 of the Human Rights Act 1998, insofar as it required carer applicants to be heterosexual: its policy discriminated unlawfully against gay men and lesbians.

e. Ofsted’s Report did not violate Cornerstone’s Convention rights under Articles 9 to 11 and 14 ECHR.

f. Ofsted’s Report was not unlawful as being in breach of the Social Care Common Inspection Framework (SCCIF): Independent Fostering Agencies.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "May a fostering agency recruit only heterosexual Evangelicals?: Cornerstone" in Law & Religion UK, 8 July 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/07/08/may-a-fostering-agency-recruit-only-heterosexual-evangelicals-cornerstone/

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