Comment: Religious groups should not have monopoly on education

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Edinburgh Secular Society this week published a full list of the 91 religious nominees that have by Scottish law to be appointed to the 32 Scottish local authority education committees.

Each local authority has to appoint one Roman Catholic nominee, one Church of Scotland nominee and one or two other religious nominees who participate fully, like the elected members of the committees, in all aspects of committee business.

All the religious nominees were Christian apart from one Jew, two Muslims and two inter-faith representatives. Eighty-six (95 per cent) are Christian.

In recognition of the diversity of religion in contemporary Scotland, the Scottish Parliament’s weekly Time for Reflection (TFR) gives much greater recognition to minority faiths than is allowed for in these arrangements. Only 75 per cent of contributions to TFR in 2007-11 were Christian. Recent survey data suggests that even this figure is over-representative.

There is a deeply undemocratic character to the role of these religious nominees. The Church of Scotland Church and Society Council states in its annual report that “we estimate that . . . Church Representatives hold the balance of power on 19 Local Authority Committees” (out of 32).

Such a blatant assertion of the power of the Christian churches is fundamentally worrying for those who favour democratic rather than theocratic rule.

And why should religious organisations have this special legally-backed representation on education committees? Survey evidence suggests that half the population now is not attached to any church or religious organisation. Yet such people still have their views on moral, educational and social issues. Religious denominations do not have a monopoly of ethical or educational wisdom.

Is it not time that the Scottish Parliament sought to remove the unjustified and undemocratic representation of religious groups in Scotland’s education system?

• Norman Bonney is a member of Edinburgh Secular Society