Ron looks at the vexed question of the religious influence on day to day school matters
Regular readers will know that I am opposed to "Faith Schools" because I believe that part of their aim is to indoctrinate pupils with their own beliefs and, more importantly, because I believe that they are divisive in a multi-cultural society and provide a potential breeding ground for future social unrest. I believe that, as in the USA, state funded schools should be prohibited from providing religious or sectarian teaching. Furthermore I object strongly to the principle that a school funded by the state, i.e. paid for by you and me, should have the right to select pupils, not on the basis of their ability, not on the basis of their proximity to the school, but on the basis of their parents' religious beliefs.
The French also support the policy of keeping religion out of state schools and I would support their decision to ban religious symbolism in state schools, including overtly religious dress. I was very disappointed last month, therefore, to see Shabira Begum win her appeal against her school's decision to ban her from wearing her extreme form of Muslim dress, the Jilbab. She was in a school with mixed religious beliefs, the school had rules for dress that permitted Muslim headwear and those rules had been agreed by the local Muslim community leaders. She, or her parents, chose to take advantage of the human rights afforded her in this country (and not available in a strict Muslim society) to pursue her own particular end and snub her own community leaders. Her action cost the school a great deal of money and cost her two years of her education. If she found it so difficult to conform to the school rules she should have looked for another school.
The court's decision was a bad decision; it has alienated her from her contemporaries at school and damaged the relationship between Muslims and the rest of society. It now seems that anyone who chooses to label their requirements 'religious' must have those requirements respected and met. There are, no doubt, many religions with beliefs that seem odd to the majority, including, I believe, one that requires its followers to wear no clothes. Are we to pander to their requirements also? One wonders what this ruling has done for the future of school uniforms, can any pupil claim that it is their 'human right' to wear clothes of their choice? Do schools have the right to establish and enforce their own rules?
As in many things, I regret to say, the French seem to have got it right.