School chaplain sacked and reported to terrorist watchdog for identity politics sermon begins appeal

A former school chaplain who was sacked, reported to the national teaching regulator, the Disclosure and Barring Service, and the government’s counter-terrorism programme Prevent for the ‘crime’ of preaching a sermon on identity politics, will today begin his appeal at the Employment Appeal Tribunal

A former school chaplain who was sacked, reported to the national teaching regulator, the Disclosure and Barring Service, and the government’s counter-terrorism programme Prevent for the ‘crime’ of preaching a sermon on identity politics, this week began his appeal at the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, the ordained Church of England (CofE) minister Rev. Dr Bernard Randall, originally took legal action against Trent College in Derbyshire following his dismissal for a sermon he gave in 2019 on the CofE’s own teaching on marriage. In a CofE chapel. In a school with a CofE ethos.

The sermon, which you can read here, was a model of fair-mindedness, reminding the pupils that no-one has a monopoly on moral truth, whether it’s traditional Christians or LGBT activists, and stressing how important it is to approach ethical disagreements with humility, tolerance and courtesy.

The chaplain said he devised the sermon after Educate & Celebrate (E&C), a third-party inclusivity training provider that encourages toddlers to question their gender and advises primary school pupils on “how to break the binary and be gender inclusive”, worked with the school to ensure LGBTQ issues received appropriate representation in policies and codes of conduct.

Dr Barnard was particularly concerned by an E&C presentation which was attended by teachers, at which they were exhorted to shout the slogan “smash heteronormativity”. Willingly or otherwise, they did so.

As he commented to the Mail in 2021, he felt the language used by the instructor was “revolutionary Marxist in style”. “There seemed,” he said, “to be an emphasis on instruction rather than suggestion.”

In response to a request from a pupil, Dr Randall then delivered a sermon to pupils on the possibility of reasonable disagreement, even on the most contentious topics.

During this sermon – titled ‘Competing Ideologies’ – he encouraged pupils to “look at some of the claims made about gender identity, and think that it is incoherent to say that, for example, gender is quite independent of any biological factor”.

“You should no more be told you have to accept LGBT ideology,” he added, “than you should be told you must be in favour of Brexit, or must be Muslim.”

Following his dismissal by the College, Dr Randall was blacklisted by the CofE’s Derby Diocese safeguarding team as a “risk to children”. A safeguarding report then concluded that Dr Randall’s CofE and Biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality was a “risk factor”, which resulted in him being reported to the government’s terrorist watchdog, Prevent.

Remarkably, that wasn’t the end of Dr Randall’s un-personing. Following the Employment Tribunal’s original ruling in February 2023, the Headteacher of Trent College maliciously reported his ex-employee to the Teaching Regulation Authority (TRA) and the Disclosure and Barring Service with the aim of preventing him from teaching and working with children indefinitely.

At the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Dr Randall will get the chance to challenge the Employment Tribunal’s astonishing ruling, which upheld his sacking.

In ruling against him, Employment Judge Victoria Butler wrongly asserted several times that: “E&C is an Ofsted and DfE recognised best practice programme.” E&C in fact lied to hundreds of schools that it was endorsed by Ofsted.  

Elsewhere, Judge Butler’s ruling states that a pupil asked Dr Barnard a question – “How come we’ve been told we have to accept all this LGBT stuff in a Christian school?” – during a Year 10 religious studies lesson. It was an important detail, and was discussed at some length during the hearing. But Dr Randall never taught Year 10 Religious studies, or, indeed, any other subject, and his evidence to the panel made clear that the question was asked at the end of a philosophy club that he ran.

Concerns about the phrase “smash heteronormativity” being repeatedly shouted in a school setting were dismissed by Judge Butler, who described it in the jolly, lighthearted style of an early P.G. Wodehouse novel as “an enthusiastic attempt by Miss Barnes [an E&C employee] to warm-up the teachers at the outset of the day”.

However, Judge Butler’s ruling then proceeds to impute a very different motive to Dr Randall, describing his sermon as: “An act of retaliation against his misconceived view of E&C.”

“Reading the judgment of the tribunal,” Dr Randall remarked last year, “you’d hardly think that Judge Butler heard a single word I said. I kept thinking, ‘She’ll mention my evidence in a moment, and give an evaluation’. It didn’t happen.”

At the appeal hearing, Dr Randall’s lawyers will also argue that the original tribunal ruling failed to recognise his right to freedom of religion and expression when delivering the sermon on contested issues on matters of significant public interest, and that the school and Tribunal denied pupils’ free speech right to hear Christian teaching and make up their own minds.

They are also expected to challenge the tribunal’s perverse finding that the school’s safeguarding team was justified in reporting Dr Randall to the government’s terrorist watchdog, Prevent, for the sermon.

Speaking ahead of the hearing, Dr Barnard said: “As an ordained CofE minister working as a chaplain in a school with a CofE ethos, it was my duty to encourage debate and help children who were confused by the LGBT+ teaching to know that there are alternative views and beliefs on these contentious issues.”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Trent College and the Church, which should have backed Bernard in this situation, have punished him instead. They have succumbed to the fear of upsetting the LGBTQI+ lobby. Five years after this all started, despite the pressure and mischaracterisation of his position, Bernard is not for turning until justice is done. 

She added: “If this ruling is not overturned and Bernard does not receive justice, then any parent, child, teacher or chaplain who opposes the agenda of ‘smashing heteronormativity’ in our schools, is not safe from losing their jobs, or worse. We have to win it and will not give up until we have.”

A brave and principled man. Everyone at the FSU is rooting for you, Dr Barnard.