How the Church of Scotland justifies its unelected Education Committee appointees; assumption, presumption, and privilege

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Our petition to the Scottish Parliament seeking to remove these unelected representatives is still open for signature here

As regular readers will know, moves are afoot to remove the three Church nominees who sit, with no regard to the electoral process, on every Local Authority Education Committee in Scotland (you can help by simply signing our Parliamentary Petition here).

In England, the legal requirement is for two such representatives, one from the Church of England and one from the Catholic Church. Something ought to be done something about this, although the English educational system, disrupted and fragmented, is now largely out of the hands of the local authorities anyway. There is much be said about the situation developing in England, little of it complimentary, but that is not my present concern.

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Schisms and mergers among Scottish churches since the Reformation; Wikidwitch via Wikipedia. Click on link for clearer image

The requirement for three church appointees reflects the fractious history of Scottish Protestantism, and the presence of these representatives is a relic of the Churches’ historical input. The representatives exert power on local authorities’ most important committees, their Education Committees, over and above the power they would exert as citizens, and the Churches to which they are answerable thereby exert power over and above the power that they certainly exert, and in a democratic society must be free to exert, as associations of individuals. This is not about religion; it is about power. It is not about rights; it is about privilege.

Consider the Church of Scotland’s own code of practice for its religious representatives, which states:

Since the state assumed responsibility for the provision of school education in 1872 the Church of Scotland has been granted a statutory role as part of the education authority of the day.  This privileged position reflects the historical link between schooling and the church. For that reason, if for no other, it is important for church representation on local authority committees with a responsibility for education, to ensure a respected presence across Scotland. This may be achieved by establishing good relationships; by exercising your statutory right and endeavouring to influence council education policies in areas of interest to the national church, including the development of the curriculum, Christian values, religious and moral education and religious observance in schools.

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The Church of Scotland offices in Edinburgh. The Church of Scotland Education Service appoints a representative to every Council Education Committee in Scotland.* Illustration by Kim Traynor via Wikipedia

Where to start? Let’s start with the description of the Church of Scotland as a national church. How seriously should we be taking this claim, when in today’s Scotland only a fifth of the population say that they belong to it, while twice as many say they have no religion. It’s not even as if people turned to the Church on special occasions; Humanist weddings in Scotland now outnumber those of any religious denomination. Then there is the disingenuous reference to the historic link between schooling and the church. The reality is that in 1872 what had been the Church of Scotland was split into two (soon to be three) major fragments, not to be reunited to form the present-day Church of Scotland until 1929, and that in any case the 1872 Act combined church-run and local authority schools in what was intended to be a single non-denominational system. But all this is a minor detail compared with the major presumption, that such history could possibly justify a special place for the Church. The Church could perhaps claim some kind of inherited property rights over pieces of land or buildings, but the idea of an inherited right to influence children’s education is morally repugnant. Thirdly, there is the assertion of a statutory right to seek to influence council education policies in areas of interest to the national church. What, one wonders, could this interest possibly be, over and above the interests of the pupils themselves, and the broader community to which they belong? Then there is the reference to Christian values. I will have much more to say about these in a later post (hint: Euthyphro’s Dilemma; Justification through Faith; the Churches and sexual morality; the 10 Commandments).

Finally, there are the stated objectives of endeavouring to influence … the development of the curriculum, religious and moral education and religious observance in schools.

Such endeavours by the Church, as by any other body, are a welcome ingredient of public discussion in our pluralist democracy. What is completely unacceptable is the pursuit of these objectives by means of an inherited privilege that lacks all democratic legitimacy.

Unless one believes (and one is forced to conclude that the Church leaders really do believe) that the ecclesiastical authorities have access to a kind of wisdom not granted to lesser mortals, what possible reason is there for the Church to have special reserved powers to influence the curriculum that affects all pupils (Church-connected or otherwise? For religious and moral education, the policy of Scotland’s Education Department is that the teaching of this subject (and it is actually a curriculum subject!) should educate but not indoctrinate, so that special Church influence in this area is completely out of place. And to conclude, the policy on religious observance states that it should represent the shared values of the community to which the school belongs, transcending denominational boundaries.

Thus, by its own accounting, the Church of Scotland plans to use its unelected appointees in ways that subvert the very educational system that they are there to influence. The policies of the other Churches making such appointments are presumably similar, and the argument used to justify the existence of these appointees turns out on inspection to highlight the need for their abolition.

*Exception: Orkney, which as of summer 2015 had no religious appointees. The Church of Scotland did, however, have two appointees, contrary to the law, in Midlothian and West Lothian.

This post uses material that first appeared in 3 Quarks Daily, under the title Democracy or theocracy; the bid to reform Scotland’s educational system

This post is also available at http://www.secularsociety.scot/church-scotland-justifies-unelected/

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on November 2, 2016, in Education, Politics, Religion, Scotland and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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