Alan Judd, an adviser to the Secretary of State for Education, wrote in The Telegraph last week that believers should be able to set up free schools so long as they do not teach extremist views.
“To ban believers from setting up free schools would be to exclude a large number of able, well-meaning and experienced people who can do much to raise levels generally,” he said.
“The trouble is, as always, when it’s taken to extremes, whether it’s evangelical Christians, totalitarian Muslims or segregationist Jews.
“Such applications need careful vetting, not because there shouldn’t be far-out religious and ideological beliefs, but because the taxpayer shouldn’t pay to propagate them – and because children should be able to participate in a wider society without having their horizons narrowed by fundamentalism.
“That is why Mr Gove is right to insist that creationism – essentially, the assertion that the universe is not evolving but was created much as it is by a single deity and centred on us – must not be taught as part of science.”
Steve Clifford, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance, wrote a letter to The Telegraph in response to Mr Judd’s assertion.
The letter was not published by The Telegraph but has been posted online by anonymous blogger Archbishop Cranmer.
In it, Mr Clifford says it is “wrong and worrying” that a senior government adviser should brand evangelical Christians as extremist.
“There are approximately 2 million evangelical Christians in the UK , the fastest growing part of the church worldwide. They take their faith seriously, but that does not make them extremist,” he wrote.
“To suggest it does demonstrates a woeful lack of religious understanding at the heart of government.
“Evangelical Christians are at the heart of their community. The churches that are members of the Evangelical Alliance contribute half a million hours of service a week to their communities. In fact, the more important a Christian thinks their faith is, the more likely they are to engage with the world around them.
“Evangelical Christians work hard to alleviate poverty, counter injustice and care for the vulnerable.
“Letting evangelical Christians run schools is not just a matter of equality: it is letting the people who know their communities best work to make them even better.”
Mr Judd wrote in The Telegraph after complaints from the British Humanist Association (BHA) over the go ahead for Christian free schools.
Sevenoaks Christian School and Grindon Hall Christian School were among the 102 new free schools pre-approved to open next year by the Department for Education. The schools to be given approval included 33 with a faith ethos.
The BHA argues that the schools should not have received approval because they are “creationist”.
Sevenoaks explains its stance on creationism on its website: “Christians believe that God made the world, loves the world and is pleased with his creation. In RE we plan to teach about this and our responsibility as stewards of this precious earth. The government has said that free schools cannot teach ‘creationism’ or ‘intelligent design’ in science lessons as an alternative to the theory of evolution and we are content to accept this.”
Grindon Hall clarifies on its website that “we do not believe that the very plain evidence supporting a lengthy process of evolution needs to be challenged by Christians”.
“We do not share the rigid creationist’s insistence on a literalistic interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis,” it adds.
Despite the explanations, BHA chief executive Andrew Copson contends that the schools are creationist.
He said: “It is plain from their comments that Sevenoaks Christian School are a creationist group who have identified that they can’t teach creationism in science, so they will teach it in RE instead.
“Teaching creationism in RE is no more acceptable than teaching it in science as pupils who are taught one thing in one subject and then the opposite in another are going to end up confused.
“The previous government made this very clear in their guidance on creationism and it is deeply concerning to see the present government watering that down.”
Of Grindon Hall, he says: “Grindon Hall Christian School is a classic example of the so-called ‘teach the controversy’ approach, often used by American creationist groups to get creationism taught in schools.
“Creationists do not argue that evolution should not be taught. They simply argue that there is genuine scientific debate over the origins of the universe and the Earth, and that therefore creationism should be taught alongside evolution.
“The issue with the ‘teach the controversy’ approach is that there is no scientific controversy over evolution and creationism: the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly in favour of evolution.”