PRIVATE Christian schools can smack pupils with parents' consent because it is part of a religious doctrine protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Court of Appeal was told yesterday.
The 40 schools, spearheaded by the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, want a change in the law to allow them to use corporal punishment.
Their attempt to challenge legislation banning smacking in schools by claiming it did not apply to independents was rejected by the High Court last year.
Paul Diamond, representing the schools, told Lords Justices Buxton and Rix and Lady Justice Arden that the Convention gave everyone the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Corporal punishment was a doctrine advocated in the Bible and was thus part of the ethos of evangelical schools, Mr Diamond told the court.
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 judges.
Mr Justice Elias, the High Court judge who turned down the school's application for judicial review, said in his ruling: "In my judgment, section 548 of the Education Act (1996), as amended by the School Standards and Framework Act (1998), gives effect to a clear Parliamentary intention to abolish corporal punishment in all schools, including all independent schools.
"This legislation does not infringe the human rights of any of the claimants."
After Mr Diamond agreed that the court was being asked to accept that corporal punishment was a religious belief, Lord Justice Buxton commented: " 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.
"That is not to belittle it. I express no views about the principle."
Judgment was later reserved. The Liverpool school, where fees are £1,920 a year and which takes pupils from all Christian denominations aged four to 16, is based in Overbury Street, Edge Hill. Headmaster Phil Williamson said last year that there was a "Biblical mandate" for corporal punishment.