The Catholic Church has condemned a leading SNP figure for being “chillingly intolerant” after he voiced his opposition to faith schools.
Tommy Sheppard, SNP MP for Edinburgh East, has said Scotland should have a secular school system and called on people to “chip away” at the role played by organised religion in the classroom.
Mr Sheppard’s remarks, which have only just come to light, were made when he spoke at a Humanist Society Scotland Fringe event at last year’s SNP conference.
The event was promoting the Scottish humanist society’s ‘Enlighten Up’ campaign’ which seeks to end mandatory religious representation on local authority education committees.
A recording of the event showed Mr Sheppard saying he hoped to see a secular system in Scotland.
“The question is divining a strategy to get there and how we do it is bit by bit. And some of the things in the `Enlighten Up’ campaign are I believe are exactly the way to do that,” said Mr Sheppard, who describes himself as an atheist and humanist.
“Chip away at the power of organised religion has within our school system. Take those little victories and use them to move onto the next campaign were we actually advocate that the role of religion in schools is for people to learn about it about it but not for it to define the value system in the school.”
A spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said: “This is a blatant attack on religious freedom and chillingly intolerant. While members of the Humanist society claim to be proud of their belief system, they don’t seem sufficiently proud of it to argue for humanist schools which would be underpinned by humanist beliefs.
“Politicians should know that religious belief is a protected characteristic and when it is expressed through educational choice, it should not come under attack. Currently over 20 per cent of the school population choose Catholic schools, this parental choice reflects the educational value of Catholic schools, consistently documented in HMIe reports.”
A SNP spokesman said: “These views do not represent the position of the SNP or the Scottish Government and are simply the personal views of Mr Sheppard.
“The SNP is a strong supporter of faith schools. They play an important part in Scotland’s education system, and the SNP Government believe it’s important for parents and pupils to have the choice to attend a faith school if they want to.”