Holding to the biblical definition of male and female has cost the Rev. Bernard Randall his job.
Randall served as chaplain of Trent College, a day and boarding school in Derbyshire, England, for four years. He delivered a sermon to students on the topic of gender identity in 2019.
“So, all in all, if you are at ease with ‘all this LGBT stuff,’ you’re entitled to keep to those ideas,” Randall said in his sermon, adding, “if you are not comfortable with it, for the various—especially religious—reasons, you should not feel required to change.”
Despite Randall’s clear statement that “no one should be discriminated against simply for who he or she is,” Trent College suspended the chaplain for the sermon, reported him to England’s counterterrorism watchdog organization, and subsequently dismissed him.
Randall joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share his story and why he chose to take legal action against his former employer.
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- The man accused of killing eight at Atlanta area massage parlors pleads guilty to four murders and is sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: Religious freedom is, of course, one of the most sacred rights that we hold in America and across much of the Western world. But what we have seen recently with a rise of woke culture is that some individuals are coming under attack for their religious convictions. And one such individual is Reverend Bernard Randall who joins us today. Reverend, thank you so much for being here.
The Rev. Bernard Randall: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me on.
Allen: You are in the middle of a lawsuit against your former employer, Trent College. Trent College is a day and boarding school in Derbyshire, England. You served there as the chaplain for about four years, but you began to become a little bit concerned over the school’s gender ideology and what they were teaching students back in 2018. So take us back to 2018 and tell us a little bit about the concerns that you were having over some of those ideologies that the school was beginning to embrace.
Randall: Of course. Yeah. So back in 2018, we had a training session for staff from an organization, which is called Educate and Celebrate, which is one of a number of charities in the U.K. I guess there are similar things in the [United] States. And their goal is to embed gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation in the school’s life.
And on the face of it that’s to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying, which is a good thing, and I don’t think anybody would want bullying for any reason whatsoever. So to that extent, brilliant, an excellent thing to do.
But what happened was that in the training session, it quickly moved from, “Let’s make sure everybody’s treated well,” to something much stronger in terms of an ideological position. And it was fairly obviously straight out of what’s called queer theory—the notion that actually to be heterosexual is just one of many equally valid options, but also that the binaries between male and female, straight and gay, ought to be broken down.
So during the staff training session, they had one bit where the leader of the session was inviting staff to chant about smashing heteronormativity. And the idea of smashing something is quite a violent image. And it’s certainly not one that I thought as a Christian school we should be encouraging.
And I would say that, actually, the Christian understanding of what it means to be human being, the way the Bible talks about marriage and so on, is pretty heteronormative. That’s just the way things are for most people. And what we were being told was to reject that, indeed, to smash it.
I went to the senior leadership after the session and said, “There are things here that are great. We don’t want bullying. Everybody should be treated fairly, no discrimination. But there are elements that run against the school’s Christian ethos.” Because it’s a Christian school, the Protestant and evangelical principles of the Church of England are what it’s supposed to be run on.
So I was saying, “There are problems here. I’d like to be involved in working out what we can and can’t use from this program.” And they said, “Yes, great. We’ll have that discussion.”
Turned out there was no discussion. It was simply a case of fully implementing the whole thing, including in terms of the protected characteristics in British law. There are nine protected characteristics: disability, age, and so on. And in law, they include sex. So you can’t discriminate against women for employment, for example, and gender reassignment, people who have been through or are planning to go through a process of sex-reassignment surgery or treatment.
But for Educate and Celebrate, it’s not sex and gender reassignment, which is quite a narrow thing. It’s gender and gender identity. And as soon as you bring in gender identity, you’re into a very different area and a very ideological area. And I felt that was not what we should be doing.
Allen: You began to talk with some students and there was confusion across campus about some of these ideologies and policies. And you actually had a student ask you, “Can you address this?”
Randall: That’s right. Yeah. So I didn’t go searching for people to dispute it. But I picked up, over the course of the school year, a number of pupils and staff saying, “I don’t know about this. Not quite happy with it. Bit confused.” Or a few just saying, “I don’t agree with it.”
A student eventually asked me, could I in a sermon in chapel address the topic. And the question he put was, “How come we’re told we have to accept all this LGBT stuff in a Christian school?” And I thought the expression “have to accept” was a really interesting one. He wasn’t saying which is right or wrong, but do we have to accept it? Is it compulsory?
And the sermon I delivered basically said, “No, it’s not compulsory. You don’t have to accept an ideology which is other than your own.” And that applies across the board to all ideologies. I’ve always been very clear: You don’t have to accept the Christian ethos of the school. If you’re not Christian, for whatever reason, another faith, an atheist, you don’t have to accept it. By the same measure, you don’t have to accept some of the LGBT ideological things.
So I said, “You may, in accordance with the teaching of the Church of England and many other faiths, believe that marriage is properly only of a man and a woman. You may believe that biological sex is real and actually makes a difference sometimes, though most of the time it doesn’t. And you may look at the way that gender identity is talked about and think, ‘Well, it doesn’t make sense. It’s incoherent. It’s contradictory. And if it’s contradictory, it can’t be completely true.’ And so we need to search for what’s true and what’s not true within that. As Christians, we [are] concerned about the truth.”
So that was basically what I said, and I got into quite a bit of trouble for it.
Allen: Yeah. So you deliver the sermon. You tell students, “You don’t have to accept this ideology,” and you really encourage them to think, to actually form their own ideas.
Randall: And to respect people that they disagreed with. And there’s no excuse for personal attacks or abuse of any kind. Nobody should be mistreated. Love your neighbor as yourself means treat everybody really well as you wish to be treated. But it doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything your neighbor says. Inevitably, it can’t mean that, but it does mean respect. Other people come to that belief for sincere reasons. They’re not just being awkward. So I was very emphatic about that need for respect.
Allen: And then what was the response that you received from the school? This was 2019. You deliver the sermon. What was the reaction from Trent College?
Randall: It was pretty bad. I was called in the following Monday for what felt like an interrogation with a couple of the senior leadership team. Why I said this? Why was I going against the schools’ introduction of this LGBT agenda?
And then the following day, I was called into the head teacher’s office and suspended and they took disciplinary action against me. In the course of which I was reported to the police under the U.K. government’s anti-terrorism strategy. I was reported to the local authority safeguarding for children officer as a risk to children. And in due course, I was sacked from my position for gross misconduct.
I appealed and I was reinstated by the governors. So that was something. But then COVID hit and the restrictions and the financial impact of that. And they used that as an excuse to make me redundant and just get rid of me because they said they didn’t need a chaplain anymore, despite the Christian ethos at the school.
Allen: What was going through your head when you learned not only you’re being suspended, but that you’re being reported to England’s, essentially, terrorist watchdog group?
Randall: Yeah. Well, it was terrifying. In the course of the investigation, for the preliminary stuff before the disciplinary hearing itself, I was sent some paperwork, just, “This is the evidence we’re going to be looking at.” And in that it said about this referral to Prevent, that’s the anti-terror watchdog. And they hadn’t had the courtesy to tell me they were doing this, I just happened to read it.
Reading that was really the scariest thing ever, really, because you have visions of the Secret Service breaking down your front door at 6 o’clock in the morning, dragging you off for interrogation, seizing computers and phones and all that kind of stuff that you just don’t want anybody to go through.
Fortunately, it was only a few days before the disciplinary hearing itself, so I wasn’t left in that state for very long, but long enough to not recommend it to anybody, let’s say.
And then in the hearing, I was given a chance to ask various questions and put my case and whatever. And one of the questions I asked was, “Do you think the Church of England, of which I’m an ordained minister, do you think the Church of England is a terrorist organization?” And the head teacher said, “Oh, well, no. And actually that Prevent referral came back, didn’t meet the threshold for any further action. We should have told you that, shouldn’t we?” “Yes, you should have told me.”
The relief was just tremendous at that moment. But yeah, not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy. Really not.
Allen: So you were just, for a short time, as you say, you were reinstated. Were you having any students or other faculty or staff at your school reach out to you and offer their support or even say, “Maybe we disagree on these issues, but I still am sorry for what you’re going through”?
Randall: There were a number of people, staff mainly, who came and said how good it was to have me back. And a couple of students said, “Oh, chapel will be interesting again now [that] you’re back.” Which was really lovely. I appreciated that. But nobody had been told exactly what had gone on.
I just disappeared at the end of the summer term and been missing for September of the next term. But I was told, just say personal reasons for why you were away, which didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t like not telling the truth, but I thought, “OK, actually, this is embarrassing for the school, or it should be. And I don’t want to embarrass my employers any further.” But I couldn’t say too much.
All of my sermons after that was censored. They had to be approved by a member of the senior leadership team. And I wasn’t given any teaching. Previously, I’d been teaching a number of classes, and I was refused permission to teach anymore. So I didn’t have as much contact with the students as I had done previously. And that meant I didn’t have that interaction where things might’ve been said. So I was very much sort of under the thumb, under watchful eyes. Everything I did was being monitored to make sure I didn’t say anything that was deemed to be offensive again.
Allen: And ultimately, as you said, you did wind up losing your job at the school. And now earlier this year you filed a lawsuit against Trent College on grounds of harassment and victimization, unfair dismissal. Tell us a little bit about that decision to sue the school.
Randall: Actually, the way that justice works in this country is clogged and overloaded. So actually, I filed the lawsuit beginning of last year. It was going to take over a year to be heard. And the reason for doing that was, basically, I thought, if this was just something that affected me, turn the other cheek, just put up with it. Live through it and come out the other side and it will be OK.
But I recognized that actually it wasn’t just me. It wasn’t something that only mattered to me. Other people would not be able to say what they thought. If they can sack the chaplain for saying you may be Christian on these matters, no one else is going to be able to say, “Oh, actually, I hold to the traditional view of these matters,” without being closed down and potentially asked to leave the school.
And there’s a wider principle too across society of these debates. And I just felt it had to be something that was tested in the court and made public. I had to do that. So that’s the decision I took with a heavy heart, because no one wants to get involved in that kind of action against an employer. And so many good colleagues at the school that will be suffering for this to some extent. And I don’t want to see that, but there is a bigger principle.
Allen: Where does the lawsuit stand right now?
Randall: Well, it was supposed to be heard last month in June. But unfortunately, the school’s lawyers didn’t produce the documents, the evidence and witness statements, that they were supposed to in time. So the judge was pretty annoyed. Expressed herself as strongly as a judge is able to do so, I suspect. In private, words might’ve been said. But she had no choice but to put the lawsuit back.
So it’s now had to be relisted for September next year, which is the next available set of dates where there’s a long enough period of time to hear what’s quite a big and complex case.
Allen: I see. And I know you’re being represented by a Christian legal group in London. Are they optimistic about the future of the case?
Randall: They’re incredibly optimistic. Yeah. Christian Concern, who have a legal team and sort of fight this kind of case quite often. People who are arrested in the street for preaching the Christian idea of marriage and then complaints happen and they’re arrested. They defend them successfully all the time.
Some cases they win, some they lose, because you never quite know. But they say that this is one of the strongest cases they’ve ever had. Because it’s not as if I said anything in itself controversial. There were no sort of rude words. There was no slur, there was no denigrating anybody. It was so full of respect and moderation that if we can’t win this case, then no case can be won at all I think is their view.
So they have been absolutely brilliant just in terms of legal support, but also moral support. When you’re being sacked, you feel very, very low. And they kept me going. So I’ll give a shoutout to them, their website, christianconcern.com. And actually if you put “/Bernard” on the end of that, there’s a page with more information available about my story.
Allen: Wonderful. And we’ll be sure to link that in the show notes as well. Free speech is something that is obviously so important to all of us, and certainly in America it’s one of our great treasures. Explain a little bit about England’s free speech laws for those who may not know.
Randall: Well, England, the United Kingdom, doesn’t have a constitution. It doesn’t have a written constitution, at least. So we don’t have the amendments on freedom of speech and the separation of church and state. So it’s all very much more complicated in Britain. And you have different governments in England and Scotland with slightly different laws in these areas.
So there are some controls on what’s called hate speech. And the question of what is hate speech is very subjective and treated more severely in Scotland than in England at the moment. So there’s cause to be concerned about free speech in the U.K. and certainly people who are critical of LGBT ideology and gender identity and that kind of stuff have lost jobs, have been closed down in various ways.
So there’s a number of legal cases going on at the moment to sort of test where the law stands. It’s easier to be free in your speech offline. In the real world, you’re much more protected. But actually, online communications are governed by stricter laws about not offending people. So it’s a tricky area. And I hope that one of the things my case will do is clarify some of what the law does and doesn’t allow in terms of freedom of religion in particular, but freedom of speech in general.
Allen: Before your case and the incident happened with the sermon in 2019, were you aware of any other individuals who had faced maybe a similar situation to what you had faced in England?
Randall: I sort of picked up bits and pieces. I wasn’t sort of hugely following stuff. I think one of the things that I was aware of was this case of Jordan Peterson, the Canadian professor, and the way that he had objected to compelled pronouns, bill C 16 I think in Canada that he talked about.
I’d heard him speaking in a number of interviews and thought, “Yes, there is some important stuff here going on. There are significant issues.” And because I think truth matters—that’s always been one of my things. Therefore, anybody who’s challenged for speaking what they perceive to be the truth, and certainly is challenged for Christian truth, that would be on my radar. I’ll pick that up.
So I was aware that there was a lot of this stuff going on, but it’s only when it happened to me that I really got into just how much there was and was sort of reading all the stories that I could find, trying to work out what on earth is going on in our society. And it’s kind of scary if you get too far into it.
Allen: Yeah. I think that’s the perfect word for it. It is a little scary. I know myself and many of my friends and colleagues have been surprised to see in the case of J.K. Rowling, who is English, and of course the author of the famed “Harry Potter” series, when she began speaking out and kind of drawing a line in the sand and saying, “A boy’s a boy, a girl is a girl.” And it took no time at all before she was really canceled and people were very, very critical of her. And she wasn’t saying anything against the LGBTQ community. She was just saying kind of, “This is the science, this is what I believe.”
Randall: Absolutely. And she was actually supportive of people who are trans and want to live their life in the way that is best for them. Being able to do so without discrimination or bullying or whatever. But also supporting the right of women to say, “A woman is a woman and you can’t blur those boundaries.”
And I think people see J.K. Rowling getting into so much trouble for what she said, and then there’s the self-censorship. And I think that’s the most pernicious thing. That self-censorship of, I won’t speak out even when I want to. And if everybody about you is self-censoring, nobody realizes that the vast majority of the population actually believe what everybody believed 10 years ago, but they’re afraid to say it. And that’s how totalitarian regimes keep control, is putting fear into people’s minds.
So who’s listening? What will happen if I speak just in a humble and honest way about my thoughts and my doubts and where I might be? Because you can’t even have the conversation without getting into trouble it seems.
Allen: So then what is the path forward? Where do we go from here to really protect freedom of religion, freedom of speech in the workplace, in government?
Randall: Well, we need to keep fighting the legal cases where these things arise and to make it clear that you can speak the kind of thing that I was saying and that so many people want to say.
It seems to me that actually, what would be really useful, particularly in the [United] States, but in the U.K. as well, is to recognize that the LGBT ideology is ideological and is functioning as a religion. Is not that these are facts which are incontrovertible, like gravity operates at a force of 9.8 meters per second, or whatever it is. It’s not like that. It is an ideology.
And if it’s an ideology, if it is a religious-type belief. Then in the U.K., it cannot take precedence over other religious beliefs, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, whatever it might be, or even the beliefs of atheists who just don’t want to be involved in this kind of stuff.
So for example, it seems to me that if someone says to you, “These are my pronouns. I want you to use them.” As far as I can see, that’s logically the same as someone saying to you, “I am a Christian. I want you to pray with me.” That’s exactly the same kind of thing. You’re saying, “I want you to follow my belief system in the thing you’re about to do.” And we wouldn’t allow a Christian to do that or a Muslim or people of faith. Why do we allow the gender identity faith to be able to say that?
So I think there are legal cases which should challenge that sort of idea. And once that is exposed, maybe that actually sort of undercuts. It’s not normal. It is a faith and people should treat it as such.
Allen: Yeah. And what’s your advice for other individuals who might be finding themselves in a similar situation to you or who are concerned? Maybe they’re the only Christian, the only conservative in a very liberal setting, whether it’s out of school or a job, and they’re worried, “OK, If I have to be pressed on this issue, I’m worried about what’s going to happen to me.”
Randall: I think that’s one where you say to people, “Be strong, be brave, do be sensible.” Because if you’ve got a whole livelihood depending on something and a family and losing your job will be catastrophic for them, you have to take that into account. It’s only reasonable. Not everybody is in a position where they can speak out.
As a school chaplain, as an ordained minister, it was my job to speak out and to try to tell the truth as best I could. It’s not everybody’s job to do that. So you have to pick your moments sometimes.
But I think as far as you can, don’t let lies be the things that you say. Speak the truth as much as you can. If you can’t say exactly what you think, at least don’t tell the lies. If you can avoid joining in with the ideology, then at least there’s some kind of mental reservation.
That will help a bit and you might suddenly notice other people who are having those reservations and you might then be able to just say over the water cooler, “Oh, yes, I noticed you were a little bit hesitant there. Are you sort of in the same place as I am?” And you realize there are more people than you thought, and that’s a great support.
In everything I’ve been through, the support I’ve had from people all over the place has been tremendous. One of the messages of support was someone saying, “I can’t believe as a gay atheist I’m supporting this cause, but if we lose this, our society is lost.” And it is that awareness that this is not just something that Christians are interested in or people of faith, but actually, it affects everybody’s right to free speech.
Allen: Well said. So, as this case moves forward, have you been able to find work?
Randall: Well, I’m not working at the moment. So I’m looking for work. But obviously, when there’s an outstanding legal case against your employer, future potential employers are going to look at that and they’re going to be hesitant. I understand that. I’m clear that I’ve done nothing wrong and would do nothing wrong, but until the court case is heard, it’s going to be very difficult for me to find work.
So one of the things I’m thinking is maybe I should try and sit down and write a book perhaps about my experience, but also trying to explore some of these issues in a bit more depth that might be helpful to other people. And whether that’s one designed for Christians explicitly, or just for people more generally who want to explore the sort of freedom issues, I haven’t quite decided that. Maybe there’s two different books there, but I’ll hope to do that and look for jobs in the meantime.
Allen: Well, if you end up writing that book, we will have you back on to talk about it. Very fascinating. Reverend, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your story with us. We truly, truly appreciate it.
Randall: Thank you for having me on.
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