Get religion out of our schools!

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on 24 December, 2006 - 5:40

Religious indoctrination and religious segregation has no place in schools. Children should be able to learn and work out their ideas without officially imposed or sponsored indoctrination from priests, imams, or rabbis. There should be no faith schools. Schools should deal in inquiry and reason, not faith.

That is the basic issue highlighted by the outcry against the mild comments on faith schools made by the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, in a speech on 17 January. Trevor Phillips, the head of the Commission for Racial Equality, has endorsed the comments.

Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society told Solidarity: “Our position is that there is a problem in the state sector, and not just in the relatively small number of independent faith schools. One third of our state schools are faith schools, and the Government is embarked on a process of expanding faith schools in the state sector.

“The Church of England has a target of 200 new Church of England secondary schools, which the Government has endorsed. In our view it is not the state’s role to be subsidising proselytisation. But there is a further problem.

“We accept that if we are to have Church of England schools, then we have to have Muslim schools. But that leads straight to religious segregation and apartheid, promoted as a matter of national government policy.

“The only sensible way forward is to make all schools community schools”.

Tony Blair is a fervent advocate of faith schools, including those run by the Christian-fundamentalist Vardy Foundation. He has just appointed as the new Secretary of State for

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly, who does not deny being an associate of Opus Dei, the sinister ultra-Catholic society which grew up under Franco fascism in Spain and is now a worldwide spearhead of the most conservative forces in Catholicism. (She can only be an “associate”, not a member, because Opus Dei admits only men as members).

Already there are seven thousand faith schools in the state sector, now including 44 non-Christian (Jewish or Muslim) ones. There are about 300 independent faith schools, over 100 Christian, about 100 Muslim, and over 50 Jewish.

Bell supports faith schools. But he said: “Religious segregation in schools… must not put our coherence at risk… Faith should not be blind. I worry that many young people are being educated in faith-based schools, with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society. As my Annual Report will say about Muslim schools: ‘many schools must adapt their curriculum to ensure that it provides pupils with a broad general knowledge of public institutions and services in England and helps them to acquire an appreciation of and respect for other cultures in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony…’”

This mild comment earned him denunciation as “Islamophobic”. But there is nothing “Islamophobic” — or “Christophobic” — in saying that when children are faced, through government policy, with a choice of either Christian or Muslim schools, then division, prejudice, and fear will prosper. Northern Ireland, with its education system divided into Catholic and Protestant schools, shows us how.

Houzan Mahmoud, British representative of the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, told Solidarity: “I am against all kinds of religious schools. I want secular education which will promote equality and integration. I am an ex-Muslim myself, but I don’t want my daughter to learn about Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. At her age I want her to learn about more interesting stuff, not those scary things. Different religious schools means segregation for children. But what we want is equality and integration”.

Whether the Christian or Muslim schools are more or less liberal, and provide more or less teaching about other faiths, is not decisive — though with Kelly in charge, only a fool will rely on Christian schools being liberal, and only a double fool will rely on Muslim schools not responding in kind to Christian illiberalism.

The core idea of any such religion is not about love or truth, or any such humanist idea. It is that books (Bible, Koran, Torah) or specially-appointed people (priests, imams, rabbis) can transmit instructions from “God” about what to eat, what to wear, how to conduct sexual relations, and what rituals to perform; and that if we defy those instructions we will be punished.

Such ideas may be hardened or softened, interpreted harshly or liberally, but without them there is no religion. Religion means fear. And religion also implies that other religions are traducing and misrepresenting God. Softened or hardened, it implies some degree of hostility to other religions and to disbelief. And it is by definition impervious to reason, for it is a matter of upholding one set of claims to represent God’s ukases — Bible and priests, or Koran and imams — against another.

Members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in the National Union of Teachers are starting a campaign on this issue, with motions to the union’s conference this Easter and plans for a fringe meeting there.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/02/2005 - 12:14

As some one that teaches Religious Education and Religious Studies I must object to a few of the views expressed in an article that I otherwise agree with.

Anyone who is involved in the teaching of religions will scoff at the notion that the role of RE/RS is to teach any religion as 'true', rather the point is both to learn about religions and learn from them by constructing a critical engagement of the pupils with some aspects of the religious tradtion that they are looking at. This is not my opinion but is what is laid out in all RE/RS syllabuses.

It seems an arrogant statement to say that all religions and all followers of religion are not concerned with love or truth, rather they seek to be told what to do! This is a gross distortion of what may people will have experienced of religion. How would you feel if some one argued that Communism is not about liberation but about the transmitting of holy texts via the Party leaders/clergy? You wouldn't deny that this can be the case but it is not the whole case!

RE/RS is possibly the one subject on the syllabus where there is no right or wrong answers but an emphasis on the development of critical reason and of opinion. It is also a chance to think about and debate issues that would not crop up in any other subject. It would be odd if people who see themselves as progressive would line up with those reactionaries who see RE/RS as worthless as its not about preparing the next generation of workers for deadend jobs. This socialist, atheist teacher union activist for one would oppose you.

Steve Davies

Submitted by Janine on Sun, 20/02/2005 - 15:11

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

I wasn't particularly referring to RE classes. I'm sure they've changed a lot since I was at school, and my kids are as yet too young for RE classes. So I don't feel knowledgable enough to comment.

What I *am* bothered about is compulsory religious worship at schools, religious appointees on governing bodies, and the designation of a school as being of a particular religion. These things are clearly based on telling children that the particular religion concerned is the one truth.

After all, if it is simply a matter of RE lessons teaching about all religions equally (and - I wonder if you could confirm this - about secularism and atheism too), then why have such things as C of E schools, Muslim schools, etc.?

I am also bothered about the so-called 'right' of parents to withdraw their children from learning about things such as sex education, usually on religious grounds. Parents should have no right to deny their kids the right to this knowledge. This is a clear example of putting religious beliefs above concern for passing on facts and learning.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/02/2005 - 18:07

In reply to by Janine

Ok, I'd totally agree with any act of worship being compulsory (a moments reflection tells us that this wrong!). Im against a school being designated a particular religion too, though in practice not all 'faith' schools try to promote the pupils to become members of that faith: I know of inner city CoE schools that are 95% muslim.

For some 'faith' schools it is more a matter of broad principles that they encourage, or a particular mission that they have (such as providing education for recently arrived pupils in Britain) rather than promoting one religion as true. Guess which type of faith schools broadly dont do the above!

I teach Religious Studies AS and A2 level and that explicitly deals with the arguments against the existence of God,as will GCSE at a lower level. In any case, I think often socialists devalue the experiences of religious people and the notion that they might be anything to learn from any religion would be laughed at by most socialists.

I share your concerns about pupils being barred from some subjects on their parents say so on religious grounds, but then for some at least of the parents they will believe that are doing whats best for their child. Do you think the state should make it illegal for this to happen?

By the way RE is the only subject that parents have a right to withdraw their children from.


Submitted by Janine on Sat, 06/01/2007 - 12:56

I don't think that it is just Muslim schools that have raised the profile of this issue. It is also the government's policy of allowing ever more wacky Christians to control state schools through their Academies programme. Fortunately, there are some good examples of school workers and communities defeating this.

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