Dorothy Cummings McLean reports for LifeSiteNews — A High Court judge has told a Christian adoption and fostering agency that its stipulation that its foster carers refrain from homosexual activity is “unlawful” but that it may still recruit solely from evangelical Christians.

Mr. Justice Julian Knowles handed down his decision concerning Sunderland’s Cornerstone Adoption and Fostering Service yesterday.

“The law requires Cornerstone to accept gay men and lesbian women as potential foster carers,” Knowles said.

He added that he “categorically” rejected “any suggestion that gay men and lesbians cannot make wonderfully loving foster and adoptive parents whether they are single or in same-sex partnerships.”

Knowles said Cornerstone “must change its recruitment policy” to allow homosexual carers to become “prospective foster parents and it cannot lawfully refuse to do so.”

However, Cornerstone, the only evangelical Christian agency among the 306 independent fostering agencies in England, may still exclusively recruit its foster carers from among evangelical Christians, the judge decided.

“Cornerstone is permitted to exclusively recruit evangelical Christian carers because of the exemption in [2] to Sch 23 to the [Equality Act] 2010 for religious organisations,” Knowles’ judgement states.

“Cornerstone’s recruitment policy does not violate Article 14 of the Convention read with Article 8, as given effect by s 6 of the [Human Rights Act] 1998, insofar as it requires carer applicants to be evangelical Christians.”

The children’s service sees the judgement as a victory for religious charities. In a press release sent to LifeSiteNews, Cornerstone said the judgment “confirms the freedom of Christian organizations to provide activities in line with their statement of faith.”

The High Court’s decision followed a legal battle between Cornerstone and Britain’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, colloquially known as Ofsted. Ofsted awarded Cornerstone, which specializes in finding homes for “hard-to-place” children, “Good” in all areas until June 2019, when the regulator suddenly downgraded the Christian institution to “Requires Improvement.”

The reasons given were that Cornerstone is “discriminatory” in that it works only with evangelical Christian foster and adoptive parents and that it holds to the traditional definition of marriage.

Believing the Ofsted inspector was violating laws protecting religious freedom, Cornerstone took Ofsted to court this May. The organization was supported by the Chief Executive of the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, Harvey Gallagher, who said both that a disproportionate number of foster parents are people of faith and that people who wish to foster may choose from a “wide range” of agencies.

“Cornerstone NE have been members of NAFP since 2017. During that time, I have found them to be a child-focused and passionate group of people. This can be seen in their previous Ofsted inspection reports,” he said.

“Within foster care, people of faith are represented more than the general [British] population. This makes sense when we consider the motivation of most foster carers – that being to help a child. It also makes sense to me that we should aim to recruit more foster carers of faith. Of course, this should be undertaken in line with assessment practice for all prospective carers.”

“At the same time, prospective foster carers can choose to foster for any agency, usually one who covers their location. There is a wide range of fostering agencies. This is important because it means that carers can choose the agency that is right for them, the one that will understand them and be best placed to support them through some tough times ahead.”

Yesterday’s judgement means that Ofsted will have to excise claims of discrimination from its report.

After Knowles handed down his decision, the feelings of Cornerstone’s chairwoman, the Anglican Reverend Sheila Bamber, were mixed.

“The judgment justifies our decision to pursue this legal action. Our right to support Christian families in providing the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children and young people has been upheld,” she said.

“But I am saddened that the fundamental place of biblically based Christian marriage in our beliefs has not been recognised. We will carefully and prayerfully consider how to continue our vocation and work to create forever families.”

The Christian Institute, a charity dedicated to defending the religious freedom of evangelical Christians in Britain, supported Cornerstone through the hearing. Its deputy director, Simon Calvert, also had mixed feelings about the judgement. His first, however, was pleasure in the victory against Ofsted.

“Ofsted has failed in its attempt to turn a small, much-loved Christian agency into another outpost of its ‘muscular liberalism’ worldview. Shockingly, it even argued in court that fostering was ‘a secular act’ and that there is no demand for evangelical carers,” he remarked.

Calvert added that Ofstead had tried to use human rights legislation to “undermine” the religious exemptions in the pro-LBGT Equality Act of 2010 aimed at protecting religious organizations like Cornerstone.

“Cornerstone’s challenge should help protect churches and other religious bodies that rely for their existence on the protections afforded by the Equality Act,” he said.

But at the same time, the Christian Institute’s director objects to Knowles’ ruling that Cornerstone must change its recruitment policies to accommodate homosexuals seeking to foster children.

“Along with Cornerstone and its lawyers we believe the judge was mistaken in treating Cornerstone as if it recruits its carers on behalf of local authorities and therefore is not covered by the equality law exception allowing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation,” Calvert said.

“Cornerstone is a private organization and places children with those within its existing pool of carers,” he explained.

“It does not recruit carers on behalf of local [government]. This part of the judgment suggests the court failed to recognise that Christian belief informs and shapes every area of life – including sexual ethics and behaviour.”

Cornerstone may appeal the judgement.

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