LONDON — A judge in the United Kingdom has ruled that while a Christian foster and adoption agency may require applicants to be evangelical Christians, it may not decline to place children in households that identify as both “Christian” and homosexual.
Justice Julian Knowles ruled that Cornerstone Adoption and Fostering Service “must change its recruitment policy to allow gay men and lesbians who are evangelical Christians to apply to become prospective foster parents and it cannot lawfully refuse to do so.”
Cornerstone Northeast had filed a legal challenge against Ofsted, or the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, after inspectors lowered its rating in June 2019 from “good” to “needs improvement.”
Ofsted asserted that the organization’s policy requiring applicants to be evangelical Christians, and as a part of that, to refrain from homosexual behavior was “not inclusive and it does not comply with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010.”
Cornerstone requires prospective parents to agree to its statement of faith, which includes a code of conduct that contains standards on sexuality. Both singles and couples may apply to foster and/or adopt.
The agency sued Ofsted as it believed the government organization was misapplying the law, as the Equality Act states that religious charities may limit “the provision of benefits” to those who share their beliefs.
Cornerstone also notes that the Charity Commission agreed that the agency was not screening prospective parents based on their “orientation” per se but on religious identity — and consequently requiring personal conduct to be in alignment with Christianity.
However, on July 7, while Justice Knowles found that “Cornerstone is permitted to exclusively recruit evangelical Christian carers because of the exemption in … [the Equality Act] for religious organizations,” he disagreed with the Commission that Cornerstone wasn’t discriminating against homosexuals by requiring applicants to have a Christian ethos about sexuality.
Cornerstone said that while it is glad that the court upheld the organization’s rights to recruit evangelical Christians, it is considering an appeal in regard to the ruling on the entity’s policies on sexual conduct.
“I am saddened that the fundamental place of biblically-based Christian marriage in our beliefs has not been recognized,” Chair Sheila Bamber said in a statement. “We will carefully and prayerfully consider how to continue our vocation and work to create forever families.”
The Christian Institute, which is supporting Cornerstone, noted in a statement that the agency is a private foster and adoption charity and is not acting with or on behalf of the government. Therefore, it should be allowed to operate in accordance with its religious convictions.
“There are 305 other independent fostering agencies in England. Cornerstone is the only one with an evangelical Christian ethos. It achieves excellent results for children and families,” said Deputy Director for Public Affairs Simon Calvert.
However, “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,” he stated. “Cornerstone is a private organization and places children with those within its existing pool of carers. It does not recruit carers on behalf of local authorities.”
“This part of the judgment suggests the court failed to recognize that Christian belief informs and shapes every area of life — including sexual ethics and behavior.”