Christian schools asks Appeal Court for right to spank pupils

LONDON - A private Christian school that says corporal punishment is part of its religious doctrine asked the Appeal Court on Tuesday to uphold its right to to spank unruly pupils.

The Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, northwest England, claims a 1998 government ban of corporal punishment in schools is "out of sync" with the wishes of the public and infringes the rights of Christians to practice their beliefs.

The school is appealing a High Court ruling in November that it had no right to hit pupils, even with parents' consent.

The school argues that the government ban breaches the right of Christians under the European Convention on Human Rights to practice their beliefs.

Lawyer Paul Diamond, representing the school, told the court corporal punishment is a doctrine advocated in the Bible and was thus part of the ethos of evangelical schools.

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

School principal Phil Williamson says that when the school petitioned the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in 1999, it ruled there was nothing in the law to prevent schools spanking children if their parents approved. The British government has rejected the European Court's ruling.

Physical punishment of children is illegal in several European countries, including Sweden, Denmark and Austria. In Britain, parents may hit children if it constitutes "reasonable chastisement." Corporal punishment was banned from all schools in 1998.

The Christian Fellowship School has pupils from many Christian denominations aged 4 to 16. Williamson said parents want the school to be able to hit children "sparingly," believing this to be a better punishment than suspension.

Forty other religious schools have supported his campaign, saying that without the right to spank, schools become undisciplined, leading to a drop in standards of education and behavior.

The hearing was expected to last all day, but the judgment was to be given at an unspecified date.