A High Court judge just permanently banned anti-LGBT education protests outside Birmingham school
A High Court judge has ruled to permanently extend an exclusion zone banning anti-LGBT education protests outside a Birmingham primary school.
Mr Justice Warby told the court that the defendants had “grossly misinterpreted” the true nature of the educational programme, which teaches tolerance of diverse groups and families through age-appropriate picture books.
“They have suggested the school is promoting homosexuality when it is not,” he said, citing several protesters’ claims that children were being taught about anal sex and paedophilia. “These claims are not true.”
He rejected the defendants’ claim that the school’s treatment of them amounted to “indirect discrimination on ethnic and/or religious grounds”, saying that their argument “lacked clarity” on how this discrimination was actually applied.
Protests against an LGBT-inclusive education programme, No Outsiders, have been ongoing since March. The movement against it was led mainly by Muslim parents and centred on two Birmingham schools, Parkfield Community School and Anderton Park Primary School.
Due to safety fears about repeated large-scale demonstrations, often involving people with no direct connection to the schools, an interim injunction preventing protestors from assembling outside Anderton Park was granted in June.
Birmingham City Council petitioned the High Court for a permanent ban to protect the school and extend the existing ban on protests to further areas of land nearby.
“It’s not about the issue of the protest, it’s the manner in which they were conducted,” Robert James, Birmingham City Council’s director for neighbourhoods, told the court.
A year-long probe by the Commission for Countering Extremism found evidence that the school protests were stoked by Hizb ut-Tahir and other pro-Islamist organisations in order to foster division.
The probe revealed that some parents were prevented from speaking to Ofsted inspectors and told they could “burn in hell” for not supporting the protests. Those who disagreed with the protests or supported the teaching of LGBT+ content were often “intimidated into silence”.
The court heard of the ways that lead protester Shakeel Afsar and his supporters “inflamed tensions” around the subject of LGBT-inclusive education.
Afsar, who does not have a child of his own at the school, was accused of inviting a controversial imam to the demonstrations. This imam falsely claimed schools were teaching children about anal sex, paedophilia and ‘transgenderism’.
Addressing a rally of approximately 300 people, including young Muslim children, the imam described the school’s headteacher as “shatani” (devilish) and told them: “That woman needs to be broken.”
Police who kept order at the protests testified they were potentially dangerous. In his ruling Justice Warby said that the defendants “bear responsibility for the most extreme manifestations of objection to the supposed teaching at the school.”
Protestors allegedly spread multiple rumours about the school, including the “hurtful, harmful and totally untrue” claim that a convicted paedophile had been invited into the school to “teach anal sex”.
School head Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson clarified that the school simply teaches that different sexual orientations are valid and must be accepted.
“We are saying some children have two mummies – that is not promoting homosexuality,” she told the court.
Afsar contested the need for a ban, which he and his supporters have dubbed a “super injunction” that threatens their right to free speech. He said the protests were “a cry of help” and said the whole campaign was meant to be “conciliatory” to find a solution.
— Balvinder Sidhu (@BalvinderITV) October 14, 2019
Christian campaigner John Allman from Okehampton, Devon, also opposed the exclusion zone. His barrister told the court: “There is a limit to law. It should not be used to silence debate. We say the British population are very concerned about this teaching.”
This is not true – new research from Stonewall has proved that the majority of the British public actually support LGBT-inclusive education.
A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said they were pleased that the injunction had been upheld.
I welcome the news that the court has upheld the injunction @AndertonPark. The Council has been clear throughout that pupils, staff and parents need protection from intimidation and anti-social behaviour. My thanks to all who have supported the school at this difficult time. https://t.co/iNCVHgESXV
— John Cotton (@CllrJohnCotton) November 26, 2019
Dr Tim O’Neill, director of education and skills, told BirminghamLive: “This was always about protecting the school and community from the escalating levels of anti-social behaviour of the protests, not about trying to stop peaceful protest.
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“As this court case has demonstrated, there remains a gap between the reality of what is and isn’t being taught at the school. Protests of this kind only serve to attract fringe elements whose aim is to stoke division and hatred. We would therefore continue to encourage any concerned parents to engage with the school to have constructive discussions and address any issues.”
Afsar and the other defendants have been ordered to pay 80 per cent of the council’s legal costs.