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The head teacher of a Devon school has defended its actions in relation to the mother of a young child who upset a classmate by telling her that she would "go to hell" if she did not believe in God and Jesus.
Gary Read, head teacher of Landscore Primary School, Threshers, in Credition, says he spoke "respectfully" to parent Jennie Cain - also the school receptionist - after her daughter had made the remark, and after the child herself was told it was inappropriate.
Mrs Cain, who says her five-year-old's religious beliefs are "not being respected" is being backed by Christian campaigners who say that this is another case of "persecution" against Christians.
But the school strongly denies this. Its governors are also challenging Mrs Cain over remarks she made about it's handling of the issue in an email sent to friends, which has been forwarded to them.
Mrs Cain has not been suspended or disciplined, but she did not go into school yesterday after the publicity.
Mr Read, the headteacher, explained: "We have 271 children in our school from a diversity of backgrounds... We encourage children to discuss their beliefs. What we do not condone is one child frightening a six-year-old with the prospect of 'going to hell' if she does not believe in God."
He added: "“We are a very, very open school and are in no way intimidating people. Unfortunately the context of the conversation between the two girls had a religious nature, but it could have been over any issue. When one pupil is upset by another and is crying, we take action.
“In absolutely no way are we trying to suppress discussion or make it difficult for pupils to discuss or express faith. The school has had a lot of support from teachers and parents.”
Many media reports of the incident have so far downplayed the question of offence and fright, concentrating on allegations that the school told off the child for "talking about God" - the headline in the Exeter Express and Echo this morning.
The Telegraph reported the incident yesterday but made no reference to the "going to hell" remark. The exact wording of the conversation is now being disputed.
Archbishop of York John Sentamu has weighed into the dispute in support of the parent. And MP Ann Widdicombe, a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism, has referred to the schools's actions as "Christianophobia".
But Simon Barrow of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia commented: "Before shouting 'persecution' Christians need to reflect much more seriously on how they would feel if their children received similar treatment by non-believers or those of other faiths, and the school tolerated it.
"The issue here seems to be that one young child frightened another. It is surely right that behaviour of this kind is respectfully challenged. I am sure the great majority of Christian parents will want to encourage children to speak with love and respect, rather than condemnation, towards others."
Notice how the Telegraph's report omits one crucial detail - that the schools objection was not to a child talking to another about God and Jesus, but to one child scaring another to tears with threats of eternal damnation - thereby putting a very different spin on the story.
George Pitcher in The Telegraph backs Cain here. Note how Pitcher also misses (i) the key fact that the issue was a child being frightened to tears, (ii) that the school's inquiry into possible misconduct has nothing to with Cain (the school receptionist) emailing other parents "for prayers", but because she may have deliberately misrepresented to other parents what actually occurred.
The omission of these details from its initial report suggests the Telegraph author is either guilty of sloppy journalism, or else is deliberately seeking to spin this story into a case of "Christians being persecuted". Ekklesia's Christians, as usual, give a much more balanced account.
The Archbishop of York picked up on the story as the Telegraph reports today. This report does include the school's side of the story, finally.