Both the Telegraph and the Daily Mail reported earlier this week about an evangelical Christian who’s been taken off the fostering register by her local authority after a sixteen-year-old girl, brought up as a Muslim, converted to Christianity and was baptised while in her care. The foster mother is now apparently considering legal action, presumably a judicial review alleging the council’s decision is unreasonable, perhaps bolstered by human rights and religious discrimination arguments.
It’s difficult for anyone to judge what’s happened here: none of us know exactly what happened and how difficult it was to discourage this girl from being baptised. None of us know what the foster carer said to the council about the girl’s conversion, or whether the council is right to have been “incandescent”, or has, as the Christian Institute alleges, overreacted here. So it’s too early to make definitive judgments. It seems at first glance a pity that this row has led to the loss of a foster carer when there is a national shortage of them, and when the girl is, after all, likely to be Gillick-competent to make up her own mind about religion. Religious groups do not own own children – personally I incline to the Richard Dawkins view that it’s quite wrong to talk about a “Muslim child” or a “Christian child” – so I see no special value in this girl’s being made or encouraged to “remain” a Muslim.
But it’s important to notice that we’re only hearing one side of this story. The local authority isn’t able to comment about a child who it appears is still in its care; it is unable to defend itself. And, crucially, this story is being brought to you by the Christian Institute – the people who previously brought us the meritless case of the registrar Lillian Ladele, who refused to do her job of carrying out civil partnerships and who somehow managed to win her claim of religious discrimination in the Employment Tribunal before sanity was restored on appeal.
Again, here, we have a council which has statutory duties to consider – here, the duty under section 33(6) of the Children Act not to cause a child in its care to change religion, which has not been made up by the council, but rather imposed on it by Parliament. Again we have an evangelical Christian paid by the council to help it carry out those duties and who, it seems, has failed to live up to the council’s expectations. And again here we have the Christian Institute funding her legal claim and gaining publicity for its campaign to persuade us that Christians are an oppressed group.
I don’t think this case is about religious freedom at all. The girl was and is free to believe what she likes and attend what church she likes. So is the former foster mother. What’s quite clear is that this woman has never been prevented from fostering because of her religion – indeed, the Christian Institute is keen to tell us she’s been fostering for ten years. But fostering is not a right. It’s a role people are carefully selected and approved to carry out for a local authority – which is, let’s not forget, the actual legal parent of a child in care – within the framework of legal duties which bind that authority. The council’s decision that it no longer has confidence in this foster carer may well be entirely justified once the full facts are known.
The real story behind all this is the growing, media-savvy campaign against secularism in the public realm that’s being led by organisations like the Christian Institute.
This whole case is odd. Is it 18 when a child legally becomes an adult? This whole thing could have been avoided if she only waited a couple of years to be baptised. She could have still practiced Christianity.
The girl is apparently back with her original family who are unaware of her conversion. What will they do when they find out, considering the reason she was fostered was because of assault by a family member?
As you say, a number of facts are missing, the story was originally reported in the Sunday Mail which isn’t particularly known for it’s calm and even-handed reporting and The Christian institute are the ones providing the facts.
“meritless case of the registrar Lillian Ladele…”
And you’ll still be arguing this Point of Law when civil unions between adults and children are legalised (ie under Sharia Law, Case Number 1: Mohammed and six year old Aisha) and wondering why another Lillian Ladele protests this is insanity.
I find it peculiar that you, like the council, are willing to endanger the child. Returning her to her original family places her in far greater danger of being beaten or killed or forced into an arranged marriage. But that seems not to trouble you. I find that troubling.
I agree that we don’t yet have enough information to know what’s really happened here. All my comments below may be incorrect. But here goes…
The Elephant In The Room here is Islam. I’ve mentally re-read the story replacing every kind of religious belief and/or lack thereof for the child’s family and the foster mother. Jewish family plus Atheist foster parent, Buddhist family plus Wiccan foster parent, Methodist family plus Hindu foster parent – you name it, I’ve tried them all. Okay, with some super-cultish religions like Raelianism it all gets very, very weird.
But as soon as you put into the story the fact that the religion the child apostatizes from is Islam, a massive, dramatic change occurs. Suddenly we’re talking about a religion which mandates murder for apostasy. Such murders sometimes get carried out. Murdering people for leaving Islam is not yet – pace Rowan Williams – legal in England. Just so you know.
This changes the way I view the actions of Kirklees council. Here are two possible interpretations of Kiklees reasoning:
1. Kirklees thinks the Islamic attitude to apostasy is to be respected, in a spirit of multiculturalism. The foster parent is therefore to be struck off the register, not for bad parenting, but for not respecting the understandable sensitivities of the Muslim community regarding apostasy.
2. Kirklees thinks an apostasy murder of the child is very likely to be carried out. It may not approve of such murders. But it views them as inevitable natural phenomena like hurricanes, rather than as criminal actions for which the perpetrators are to be held responsible and punished. It therefore blames the foster parent, rather than the would-be murderers, for endangering the child’s life.
Neither of these look great. We’re all assuming that it’s in the child’s best interests not to be murdered. There is a serious argument that the foster mother has increased the child’s chances of being murdered by not preventing her from leaving Islam. But once you introduce this argument, you effectively grant Muslims a free pass to murder apostates.
If the child’s family had been Christian, and the foster parent Muslim, we’d have a situation where the child could now be murdered for returning to the religion of her parents. So in that case, applying the council’s apparent reasoning, the child must stay Muslim, stay with her Muslim foster parent, and be kept away from her Christian family.
The Daily Mail, which is admittedly not always the most reliable news service, reports the following:
A friend of the girl claimed yesterday [Nov 13th]:
‘Her dad is a very strict Muslim who could get violent. One time he hit her with a belt just because she chatted with a couple of boys. Another time he beat her over and over and said he would take her to Pakistan and make her marry. She really didn’t want that. She was very frightened. Her dad would shout and swear at her and told her that she’d shamed the family. Her mother didn’t really do anything to protect her.’
This is, apparently, the reason why the girl was removed from her family. If true, certain things become blindingly obvious:
1. It was impossible to place the girl with a local Muslim carer and be satisfied she was safe from continued family intimidation. The local Mirpuri community is very tightly knit, and many there might actually support the father out of clan or cultural solidarity.
2. The girl’s desire to leave Islam was based on her lived experience of it. Her father’s hatred, rather than the foster parent’s love, was the main reason she wanted out of that religion and that culture. No doubt there are plenty of moderate Muslims who reject the patriarchal thuggery of the father. But that is not the Islam she experienced. It’s the father, not the foster mother, who made her want to leave Islam.
As far as I can see the council – and hence the fosterer – cannot CAUSE the child to be brought up in a different religious persuasion. Whether they may permit her to do so is another matter. The words ‘brought up’ trouble me, because they have an unrealistically passive view of personal faith – fine for a five year old, but it doesn’t work for a sixteen year old. Is placing a child with a family who would allow her to choose her own faith when her own family would not, CAUSING her to be brought up in a different faith? Discuss – one the one hand, it is permissive, not proscriptive; on the other they are actively bringing about a situation where the child’s faith consequently changes. But if this becomes a positive duty to force the child to keep his parent’s faith, then I am troubled and I think the law may need changing. I suspect, when they consider what it would mean when ‘Christian’ children are in the care of dogmatically secular social services, the Christian Institute may not.