Is it time for schools in city to lose their religion?

As council leader Jenny Dawe pledges to strengthen links with faith groups in the city, campaigners have called for religious teaching to be taken out of city schools. We hear from both sides of the argument



When the Scottish Parliament was established it decided to do away with the Anglican daily prayers of Westminster and have a weekly slot which reflected the religious diversity of Scotland.

So now there are successive weekly appearances of representatives of various religions and denominations – the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church, Methodists, the Salvation Army, Baptists, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and Baha’i – all uttering prayers and verities from their diverse traditions.

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Largely missing from this array have been representatives of the large portion of the population that is non-religious. One third of Scots said in the 2001 census that they had no religion or did not answer the question.

The non-religious regularly get overlooked. The weekly “god slot” at Holyrood and the religious organisation of schools assumes that parents and children are religious and ought to have religious services directed at them – even though large portions of the population are not religious and resent the way religion is imposed on them.

Local authority schools are based on religion. Catholic schools have a clear religious ethos and purpose of instructing pupils in the doctrines of the church. The other so called “non-denominational” schools are serviced by Church of Scotland ministers and would be better described as Protestant.

But why should the Church of Scotland, with 30 per cent support in the population, and the Catholic Church, with 13 per cent in a recent YouGov survey, uniquely have privileged positions in schools and reserved places on education committees?

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Surely more secular schooling that taught pupils objectively about the diverse religions of the world and about atheism, humanism and secularism but which did not require schools to have religious services would be much more appropriate for the diverse Scotland of the 21st century.

Parents from other religions and those without religious beliefs would find such a system much fairer and it would avoid the social exclusion resulting from parents having to remove their children from inappropriate religious services in schools.

• Norman Bonney is a council member of the National Secular Society



The views of the National Secular Society are often advanced as being representative of anyone who does not adhere to a religious faith, however, this is far from the truth.

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Many people of no faith are happy to coexist in a pluralistic society with Christians, Muslims, Jews and others. Not so the NSS, which proposes, allegedly in the name of fairness, to banish any expression of faith from our schools. Because its members withdraw their own children from religious observance, which is designed to be inclusive and not to promote any denomination or faith, they want all children to be excluded. It’s their way or nothing. They demand that society be made in their image, which seems to me to be less than tolerant – and certainly not inclusive.

Some people choose a school on faith grounds. Others choose on the basis of economic selection. We have a system that some are for and others are against for a variety of reasons. However, the NSS offers no evidence in favour of its proposal except its own belief that all things religious should be banished from public life.

Yes there are representatives from churches on local education committees – because historically, for example, the Church of Scotland has been a major supporter of education – however, there are many others on those committees who do not represent a faith community.

There is participation from churches, but in no sense is there control or undue influence. Having worked closely with church representatives, many of whom are former headteachers or school inspectors, the idea that they are there to promulgate religious faith is to misunderstand the relationship, which aims to support and if necessary challenge in the interests of all concerned.

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The NSS should be careful in its use of language. Describing the education system as a sectarian divide is pejorative and simplistic. Local relationships, between schools and between churches, are often more positive now than they have ever been. That is what we should all be encouraging, for the benefit of the children who, unlike the NSS most of the time, live in the real world where coexistence in diversity is the way ahead.

• The Reverend Ian Galloway is Convenor of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland