Neil Barber: Religion shouldn’t influence education committees

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Writing in The Church of Scotland Newsletter, Rev Sandy Fraser, convener of the education committee, celebrates the influence that religion continues to have in our education system.

As he identifies, this involves both statutory Religious Observance (RO) and three unelected religious representatives on all Scottish council education committees. He paints a rose-tinted picture of church representatives who, freed from the party political agenda of the elected councillor sitting next to them, are wise, public-spirited people with an “opportunity to serve the community”.

This is a dangerous precedent. Even if we were to concede the idea that it is ever appropriate to have non-elected nominees influence our schools, then why should these individuals be chosen exclusively from the ranks of religious believers? Why not artists or scientists or business people?

Furthermore it is naive to suggest that religious believers are beyond political agenda. We know only too well what the church, especially the Catholic Church, has to say about issues of huge relevance to young people such as abortion and sexual orientation.

The Church of Scotland has triumphantly declared that “church representatives hold the balance of power on 19 Local Authority Committees”. It is quite wrong that such individuals should have privileged influence over our schools.

ESS is supporting a petition to remove RO from state schools which has progressed to the stage of being heard by the CEC’s education committee later this year. It will then face a committee containing unelected religious nominees who like the proverbial turkeys are unlikely to vote for Christmas.

Secularism is not the same as Atheism. We fiercely defend the right of adults to choose religious belief for themselves but the church is not an arm of the state. If Rev Fraser wants more religion in our schools he should seek election as a councillor on that manifesto and I would warmly support his right to do so.

• Neil Barber is media officer with the Edinburgh Secular Society