River Wissey Lovell Fuller


January 2002

Religion And The State

Now there's a topic to get one into a whole load of trouble, but it is only one small aspect that I wish to address, even so I might still get into trouble.

In the July issue I expressed my disquiet at the Government's proposal to increase the number of faith based schools. My basic objections are a) that the establishment of more Anglican, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish etc schools is divisive and would work against the integration of ethnic and religious groups into society, providing the potential for future sectarian strife, and b) it is wrong that the religious leanings of parents should be regarded as a selection criterion and an entry requirement to schools which are funded by all taxpayers.

I still feel strongly on this issue. What happened since I wrote that item back in June amply demonstrates the undesirability of schools segregated along religious divides. In Ulster at Holy Cross adult Protestants barracked and harassed young Catholic school children. Would Ulster Catholics and Protestants have grown up hating each other to the extent that they do had they been educated in integrated secular schools? Furthermore the events of September 11 have also gone to reinforce my views. It is with great regret that I learn that the Government is intending to continue with this policy despite objections and criticism from many quarters. In the recent debate in the House one MP expressed the view that before Sept 11 it was a bad idea, now it is a mad idea. Since then we have had further evidence of the problems associated with segregation in the report on the northern city riots. Tony Blair has personally championed the cause of faith schools, which gives worrying cause for concern over his judgmental abilities.

Quite apart from the threat of divisiveness in society there are other valid arguments against faith schools e.g. a) Children have a right to objective and unbiased education with no indoctrination. b) It is wrong to require children to engage in worship in state schools below an age at which they can understand. And c) Teachers should be free to teach in state funded schools irrespective of their religious affiliations (or their absence).

In its defence the Government has said that it will require state funded faith schools to be 'inclusive' What on earth does that mean? When asked if it meant that they would be required to accept pupils from other faiths the reply was no, not unless they had been unable to fill vacancies with those of the appropriate faith. Does it mean that they must teach other religions and admit that those other religions are just as valid and as good as their own? If not it presumably means that they will claim that those other religions are inferior in some way, which would get back to the problem of divisiveness.

At the time of writing the Government is trying to introduce legislation to make it an offence to 'incite religious hatred'. This is a dangerous piece of proposed legislation which gives me cause for concern. Does it mean that it is an offence to say anything about a religion which its followers might regard as offensive or which might be used by others to denigrate that religion? That would seem to imply that faith schools must admit that all religions are equal. How else could they avoid offending? My interpretation of Matthew Chapter 23 is that those who preach another religion, in this case Judaism, are hypocrites and vipers that will "receive the greater damnation" and any convert that they make will be "the child of hell". That could be regarded as pretty strong stuff. Would a religious teacher be liable for prosecution if he were to preach from this section of the Bible?

Over the centuries religion and religious differences have been responsible for the most appalling crimes against humanity and, as recent events show, it is still going on. There are many practices with religious associations which we in this country would abhor. Why should it be made illegal for people to say what they think about any religion? Why should we indoctrinate children with such nonsense?

Ron Watts

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