If the UK is to be a truly democratic society then the Government must be open to changing its views on particular issues when it is clear that its current policies are against the wishes of the majority of its citizens .
We are increasingly a non-religious society as is shown by poll after poll, and the favoured approach is a secular one in which the Government upholds the right to worship but gives no special favours to religious bodies in general and the Church of England in particular. Unfortunately we are a long way from that position and Churches enjoy a range of privileges from automatic inclusion in the legislature and the, not unconnected, exemption of Churches from laws that apply to everyone else.
However it is education in which a lack of secularism impinges most on the lives of British citizens. Schools with a religious character, or ‘faith schools’ as they are commonly known, account for around a third of our publicly funded schools. This seriously limits choice for parents who do not share the faith of the local school and do not want a religious education for their children.
The National Secular Society has been campaigning for many years against faith schools which are a major divisive element in our society at a time when more than ever polices should be directed towards cohesiveness .
Totally ignoring this need and in the face of public opinion, it is extraordinary that our Prime Minister, a devout Christian, has chosen to put her own opinions ahead of those of the public at large by announcing the establishment of another hundred faith schools and changing the entry criteria to allow these state funded schools to take in only pupils of their favoured faith. This is a retrograde step of the first order.
By all means let us have variety in school provision but whatever their source or specialisation they should be inclusive and open to all.
Dr Brian Nicol
Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists.
Star Trek is in the news with a major convention being held in Birmingham.
I wonder how many people, including its fans, are aware that its American founder, Gene Roddenberry, was a Humanist.
Roddenberry was raised a Southern Baptist. However, as an adult he rejected religion. He began questioning religion around the age of fourteen, and came to the conclusion that it was “nonsense”. He said of Christianity, “How can I take seriously a god-image that requires that I prostrate myself every seven days and praise it? That sounds to me like a very insecure personality.” He dismissed all organized religions, saying that for the most part, they acted like a “substitute brain… and a very malfunctioning one”. He was also critical of how the public looked at certain religions, noting that when the King David Hotel bombing took place in Jerusalem in 1946, the American public accepted it as the action of freedom fighters, whereas a car bombing by a Muslim in Beirut was condemned as a terrorist act. While he agreed that both parties were wrong in their use of violence, he said that the actions of both were undertaken because of their strong religious beliefs. He made it known to the writers of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation that religion, superstition, and mystical thinking were not to be included. He compared Star Trek to his own philosophy by saying: “understand that Star Trek is more than just my political philosophy, my racial philosophy, my overview on life and the human condition.” He was awarded the 1991 Humanist Arts Award from the American Humanist Association.
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Humanists are very concerned that the principle of integrated education is under attack like never before in this country with the Government recently announcing plans to remove any limitations on the extent to which new faith schools can discriminate against children by religion.
Until now, a 50% cap on religiously selective admissions had been in place for all new faith schools but now the Government is pushing for absolute selection by religion as a result of lobbying from the Catholic Church and the Office of the Chief Rabbi.
Despite the Government’s claim that this is about ‘choice’, there is clear evidence that faith schools worsen social segregation in their local areas and reduce the ability of parents to find a good local school. In some parts of the country, they make it next to impossible for non-religious parents to send their child to any schools in their local area, forcing them to travel long distances at great expense during work hours.
Humanists believe that children from different backgrounds mixing, playing, and learning together is a good thing and that discriminating against children by their parent’s religion is wrong.
Professor Ted Cantle CBE, a leading expert in community cohesion and intercultural education, commented: “As someone whose work is concerned entirely with the promotion of community cohesion and integration, the Government’s proposals to drop the current requirement for new religious schools to keep at least half of their places open to local children, regardless of religion or belief, is incredibly worrying. Indeed, to give you an indication of the significance of this 50 per cent cap, and the damage that will be caused by dropping it, it represents the only measure of any substance, really in the history of the modern education system, that has directly sought to address the segregation that has been and continues to be caused by religious selection in schools.”
Coventry & Warwickshire Humanists