ABC Fact Check corroborates Aleph Melbourne’s fact checking of shameless claims from Karina Okotel and Lyle Shelton

Fact-checking has exposed the misinformation being peddled by Karina Okotel and Lyle Shelton.

In September Aleph Melbourne first exposed Lyle Shelton’s preposterous claim that marriage equality led to the Vishnitz Girls School failing Ofsted tests.

Today ABC Fact Check found as baseless the same claims made by Coalition for Marriage’s Karina Okotel on Q&A:

Now that The Guardian, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, ABC Fact Check and Aleph Melbourne have exposed the ridiculous misinformation being peddled by the likes of Okotel and Shelton, perhaps they will stop exploiting the misfortune of this Jewish school and stop abusing LGBTIQ people.

Claim UK school failed inspection over marriage teaching ‘factually inaccurate’ | The Guardian

Claim UK school failed inspection over marriage teaching ‘factually inaccurate’

Australian Jewish body denies Coalition for Marriage claim ultra-Orthodox London school was threatened with closure

Paul Karp
Thursday 5 October 2017 12.33 AEDT
Last modified on Thursday 5 October 2017 13.28 AEDT

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has refuted “factually inaccurate” claims a Jewish school in the UK was threatened with closure over its teachings about sexuality and marriage.

The case of the ultra-Orthodox Vishnitz girls school in north London has been cited repeatedly by the Australian Christian Lobby’s director, Lyle Shelton, and used as recently as Thursday by the Liberal senator Zed Seselja, as an example of a school forced to change its teaching because of the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

In a statement released on Wednesday the ECAJ rejected the claim that Vishnitz “lost its accreditation as a school because it would not cease teaching its version of sexuality and marriage after same-sex marriages became legal in March 2014”.

“In point of fact the school found itself in difficulties with Ofsted [the UK school regulatory authority] well before March 2014 because it was said to have failed various other legal standards arising under earlier legislation,” it said.

“For example, the school was found to have failed to have policies in place that would require it to report incidents of abuse and neglect.”

In October 2016 and May 2017 Ofsted found Vishnitz girls school had failed to meet standards that education must “encourage respect” for others based on protected characteristics in the UK Equality Act 2010, including sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

The school also failed its inspections for a number of other reasons including facility maintenance, lack of a medical room and poor labelling of suitable drinking water.

In May 2017 Ofsted concluded the issues had been fixed, including lack of child protection policies, but not the issue of encouraging respect.

Shelton has repeatedly cited Vishnitz, arguing it has been penalised because it “doesn’t want to teach their children these radical concepts” and noting it failed inspections after same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK to suggest it was a consequence of that change.

ECAJ said the 2010 law predated marriage equality in the UK and “explicitly provides that the school has the right to teach its own beliefs about sexuality and marriage in a way that does not disrespect LGBTQI people”.

Explaining why it issued the statement, ECAJ said that during the debate about legal recognition of same-sex marriage “verbal abuse should be condemned and factual inaccuracies corrected”.

Seselja told Sky News that in the UK “there is a Jewish school which is being threatened with being shut down because it doesn’t want to teach the gender theory that we’ve seen in some schools here in Australia”.

“I’ve seen the examples in the UK – where there are religious schools told they have to change their teaching in order to keep their registration.”

Seselja said he was concerned about religious freedom and parental choice but refused to nominate what changes to law he would like to see, arguing the burden should be on those arguing for same-sex marriage not opponents to devise “protections”.

At the National Press Club on 13 September the Liberal party’s vice-president, Karina Okotel, said: “Three months ago in England, a Jewish school failed three inspections as they didn’t teach about homosexuality and gender diversity and, therefore, as same-sex marriage is legal, the students were not being provided a full understanding of fundamental British values and that school now faces closure.”

None of the Ofsted reports mentioned teaching about marriage

A spokeswoman for the Coalition for Marriage acknowledged that the Equality Act came into force before same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK but said the school had only failed its inspections after the marriage law changed.

“This timeline proves, rather than contradicts, the claim by Coalition for Marriage that a change in the marriage law has a direct impact on the education of children, specifically requiring LGBTIQ issues to be taught in primary school,” she said.

The Coalition for Marriage spokeswoman said the ECAJ “had previously issued a statement asserting that there is no threat to religious freedom at all if a change to the Marriage Act was to occur”.

This was “in contrast” to a Senate committee inquiry on the same-sex marriage bill exposure draft and “any other serious commentators on this issue”, she said.

Guardian Australia has contacted Seselja, Shelton and Okotel.

Lyle Shelton exposed for falsely blaming marriage equality for the failings of a London Jewish school

Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton is using a story about a Jewish private school in London to exemplify a so-called “consequence” of allowing same-sex couples the right to get married.

On Sky News[1] (Sep 3 2017; 8:27) Lyle Shelton said:

The school in London, the Jewish school which doesn’t want to teach their children these radical concepts, lost those rights. They failed three Ofsted tests. That’s the authority that regulates schools there.

On ABC Radio National Drive[2] (Sep 7 2017; 2:09) Lyle Shelton said:

In the UK the Jewish school was fine to teach their children what they believe the Jewish religion teaches about marriage. After same-sex marriage change, that school has failed 3 Ofsted tests – this is the government regulating authority – because it won’t teach this sort of material.

This story was reported on June 26 2017 by the Independent[3]:

A private faith school in London has failed its third Ofsted inspection for refusing to teach its pupils about homosexuality.

Inspectors visiting Vishnitz Girls School in north London last month said the Orthodox school does not give pupils “a full understanding of fundamental British values”, The Telegraph reported.

Pupils were not taught about LGBT issues such as “sexual orientation”, which are in breach of equality laws.

The story continued:

Ofsted makes clear that schools are not expected to “promote” ideas about sexual orientation or gender reassignment, but they are expected to “encourage pupils’ respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the 2010 Equalities Act”.

Shelton incorrectly asserts that the school was not able to teach their version of sexuality and marriage after same-sex marriages became legal in March 2014.[4]  Provisions in the Equality Act 2010[5], under which sexual orientation became a protected characteristic, and which predates the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, in fact explicitly states that the school has this right.

The school can’t get away with ignoring the law of the land, as if it doesn’t exist.  They failed to meet the standards because they refused to teach about sexuality.  A review of the audit reports, available on the Ofsted website[6], shows that the issue of teaching sexuality is only one of numerous standards that the school failed to meet.

In fact, the school had also failed to put in place the correct procedures for the safety of children.  That is, there was no system in place for reporting neglect or abuse of the students.  This is something that should be of great concern to all, and certainly an urgent need to be addressed as religious schools struggle with child sexual abuse.  Shelton makes no mention of these failures, nor does he mention any of the other many failures of the report.

With this in mind it is difficult to understand how the circumstances of this Jewish school in London are a direct or indirect consequence of changes to marriage laws.

These reports highlight the issues that the school was facing.  More important than the fact that they aren’t covering their responsibilities regarding equality and gender education is that the school has failed to meet the criteria for providing a safe environment for the children.  They fail to have policies in place that require the school to report incidents of abuse and neglect.

The safety of the children we would hope is paramount in any school, for it to fail in the basic understanding that they need protection should surely be the rally call, not whether or not they’re taught about sexuality.

The Equality Act was put into place in 2010 and schools in the UK received advice regarding the implications of the Act in the document called “Equality Act 2010: advice for schools”.[7]  That advice was published in 2013, and more importantly the advice notes:

As far as schools are concerned, for the most part, the effect of the current law is the same as it has been in the past – meaning that schools cannot unlawfully discriminate against pupils because of their sex, race, disability, religion or belief or sexual orientation.

This is important. It is clear that the laws already made it illegal for schools to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.  To connect the Equality Act of 2010 with Marriage Equality coming about in 2014 is mischievous at best and disingenuous to say the least.

The advice goes on to make this very generous concession to religious schools in regard to their view on human sexuality:

Schools with a religious character, like all schools, have a responsibility for the welfare of the children in their care and to adhere to curriculum guidance.  It is not the intention of the Equality Act to undermine their position as long as they continue to uphold their responsibilities in these areas.  If their beliefs are explained in an appropriate way in an educational context that takes into account existing guidance on the delivery of Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) and Religious Education (RE), then schools should not be acting unlawfully.

It goes on to state:

However, if a school conveyed its belief in a way that involved haranguing, harassing or berating a particular pupil or group of pupils then this would be unacceptable in any circumstances and is likely to constitute unlawful discrimination.

In other words, the school is required to teach the full range of human sexuality, but on top of this it can also teach what its beliefs are regarding the moral position of its faith.

In summary, Lyle Shelton has deliberately twisted and distorted the facts in an attempt to mislead people to believe this Jewish school failed its three Ofsted tests as a direct consequence of allowing same-sex marriage.  His tactic of misusing news stories to substantiate his own homophobic agenda demonstrates the lengths the Australian Christian Lobby will go to to make the grotesque claim that allowing same-sex couples to get married will lead to the destruction of society.