Belfast Telegraph

Peter Lynas: Dark day for equality and freedom of expression

The Darkest Day noticeboard at Dalriada School Ballymoney
The Darkest Day noticeboard at Dalriada School Ballymoney

By Peter Lynas

And so it begins. The legislation on abortion has barely come into effect and the pro-choice brigade are looking to limit freedom and choice.

A letter has materialised on social media. The author is a London-based activist connected with the London Irish Abortion Rights Network. 

It expresses outrage at abhorrent and appalling acts. It calls for disciplinary action, suspensions, reforms and condemnation.

What is the heinous crime at the centre of this furore? A black notice board with a hashtag #DarkestDay at a school.

Surely there is some mistake you might be thinking, but no, this simple marking of the change to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws has been whipped into a controversy.

Perhaps more worrying has been the reaction of the school.

Here was the moment to model a good response. Here was the moment to show the school was inclusive for all pupils.

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Sadly, the headteacher of Dalriada School missed the chance for calm and nuance and told the Nolan Show it was an “horrendous error of judgment”.

It is certainly open to people to question whether this was the wisest use of a school noticeboard.

I would question the motives of those who sought to use social media to stir up the controversy.

But in the midst of this, the school has a duty of care to its pupils and staff, to demonstrate a proportionate and reasonable response. It has an obligation to protect the freedom of expression of its pupils under article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Unfortunately, by bowing to social media pressure, the school has made the situation worse for some of its pupils.

The pastoral care policy of the school aims “to help pupils to gain self-esteem and confidence in dealing with their present experiences.”

How can they have such confidence when expressing their sadness on a Christian Union noticeboard is met with censorship and condemnation from school leadership?

Rather than opening up minds to learn and form opinions, and enabling the appropriate expression of these, the school has moved to shut down nonconformity.

This is a dangerous path for any school to embark on as it trains the next generation.

Peter Lynas is Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance.

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