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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
School waits for smacking judgement
Phil Williamson and daughter Helen
Defiant headmaster Phil Williamson with daughter Helen
Smacking children at school is sanctioned by Christianity, lawyers acting for a Merseyside school told a court on Tuesday.

The Court of Appeal heard a legal challenge by the headmaster of a Liverpool fee-paying school who is seeking the right to smack unruly pupils.

Phil Williamson, headteacher at the independent Christian Fellowship School, wants the court to overturn laws which bar corporal punishment in schools.

But Mr Williams and representatives of 40 other religious schools throughout England, will have to wait for a decision after the court reserved judgement.

I cannot accept that Christianity requires corporal punishment

Lord Justice Buxton

Barrister Paul Diamond, for the school, said: "It is a central tenet of the Christian religion that mankind is born with a heart inclined to all kinds of evil.

"Discipline in the educational context is therefore vital."

Mr Diamond argued that corporal punishment, which he said was a proportionate response to wrongdoing and had no lasting physical effect on a child, is not prohibited by the European Convention on Human Rights.

He said: "The question for the Court of Appeal is whether and to what extent the state is permitted to prohibit corporal punishment which is permitted by the convention.

'Religious doctrine'

"In biblical doctrine children are a gift from God, but parents have responsibility for care, instruction, nurturing and disciplining.

"We assert that this is a valid philosophical doctrine and in addition it is founded on a religious doctrine to which elevated status must be given by the court."

He said the law as it stood breached the school's rights under the convention.

There was evidence to show that teachers no longer had the means to deal with the rising tide of violence, bullying, disruptive and anti-social behaviour in schools, he told the three Appeal Court judges.

Christian schools view corporal punishment of an unruly child as part of a Biblical mandate, he said.

The act of corporal punishment does not express any religious principle whatsoever

Hugo Keith, Department for Education and Skills

But Lord Justice Buxton said: "I cannot accept that Christianity requires corporal punishment."

Hugo Keith, for the Department for Education and Skills, said there was no violation of convention rights by imposing the ban on smacking in schools.

He said: "The act of corporal punishment does not express any religious principle whatsoever. It is simply, at its barest, the application of physical violence

"That is not to belittle it. I express no views about the principle."

Biblical message

In 2001 Mr Williamson, backed by a group of teachers and parents, lost a High Court fight for the right to carry out corporal punishment at his school.

His case then partly centred around a biblical passage - "Your rod and staff they comfort me" - which he said supported the right of Christians to impose corporal punishment as part of their religious beliefs.

His lawyers argued that the "rod" of corporal punishment should be allowed in independent schools with parents' permission.

But the judge ruled that there was no defence for teachers who physically punished children and that parents were not entitled to delegate the function of administering corporal punishment to a teacher.

Smacking was banned in UK state schools in 1986. Four years ago the ban was extended to include fee-paying schools.

Click here to go to Liverpool
See also:

08 May 02 | UK
Parents 'upset' by smacking
15 Nov 01 | England
School smacking case thrown out
02 Nov 01 | Education
School says Bible permits smacking
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