Britain probes allegations that Catholics asked pupils to sign petition
Published: May 1, 2012
MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- The British government is investigating claims that Catholic schools have acted illegally by circulating a letter allegedly inviting students to sign a petition in support of traditional marriage. It is against British law for children under the age of 16 to sign political petitions, but the text of the letter, circulated in nearly 400 schools for children ages 11-16, invites the faithful to sign the petition organized by the Coalition for Marriage, a group of organizations opposed to government proposals to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. The government's Department for Education is now investigating complaints by campaigners for gay marriage that students under the age of 16 years were encouraged to break the law. It is seeking a meeting with officials from the Catholic Education Service, an agency of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. "Schools have a responsibility under law to ensure children are insulated from political activity and campaigning in the classroom," an April 29 statement by the department said. "While faith schools, rightly, have the freedom to teach about sexual relations and marriage in the context of their own religion, that should not extend to political campaigning," it said. "Officials are looking into this as ministers are anxious to establish the full facts of this case and will be meeting representatives of the CES shortly." The Catholic Education Service has denied any wrongdoing. "Catholic state schools have always been permitted by law to teach matters relating to sex and relationships education, including the importance of marriage, in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church," said an April 26 statement. "The Catholic Church's view on the importance of marriage is a religious view, not a political one."
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