I thunder in The Times

I have a Thunderer piece (opinionated editorial) in The Times. The Times itself was nicknamed “The Thunderer” back when it was the UK’s leading newspaper of record. Some might criticise me for submitting to it now that it’s Murdoch, but I think the need to communicate trumps considerations of ideological purity. (I would, however, draw the line at The Sun.)*

Background: As regular readers will know, the Scottish Secular Society petition to remove unelected Church appointees from Local Authority Educating Committees has been closed, but on the most favourable possible terms. The Scottish Government has undertaken to review the equalities implications of its current reorganisation of education, and, in addition, to consider the points that we raised. The Public Editions Committee has thanked us for raising these important issues, invited us to re-submit our case if, after reorganisation, that still seems necessary, and has forwarded the matter to the Education and Skills Committee, which will be considering this issue as part of its overall discussion of the reorganisation.

Thunderer piece: This is my orginal version. The version as published, slightly cut back for reasons of space, is here. Here I give the most significant sentence that was cut back, with omissions restored and highlighted, followed by the full original text.

There is need for discussion of the entire role of religion and religious organisations in education, within an increasingly non-religious Scotland, covering such matters as the Religious Observance requirement, the nature of Religious Education (too often based on teaching one particular doctrine as true), and the inclusion, in Catholic schools, of factual information about human sexuality and birth control in Religious and Moral Education, under the control of the Council of Bishops, whose own experience of these matters is highly untypical.

Full original text: Under legislation dating back to 1929 and beyond, every Local Authority Education Committee in Scotland is required to include three unelected Church nominees as full voting members, without regard to the wishes of the voters or their elected representatives. This is obviously undemocratic. It is also grossly discriminatory, in that it creates positions of political power that are open only to members of specific religions, at a time when a majority of Scots, and especially young Scots, have no religious affiliation. The arrangement was originally justified in terms of the special interests of the Churches whose school organisations were merged into the public education system, but by now surely the only interests that matter are those of the students themselves, and of the wider community.

The Scottish Secular Society has petitioned for the removal of this requirement, and given evidence to the Public Petitions Committee. We argued that, to the extent that the Churches’ teachings are specific to the Churches, they do not deserve a privileged position, while to the extent that they are generally accepted, we do not need to grant the Churches a special role in propagating them. Moreover, the arrangement violates the spirit of Equalities legislation, by granting special privileges to certain faith-based positions, while excluding the followers of other faiths, as well as the non-believing majority. In response, the Scottish Government has undertaken to review the equalities implications of its current reorganisation of education, and, in addition, to consider the points raised in the petition. The Public Editions Committee has thanked us for raising these important issues, invited us to re-submit our case if, after reorganisation, this still seems necessary, and has forwarded the matter to the Education and Skills Committee for further consideration.

It cannot be assumed that the problem will disappear under reorganisation. The relevant legislation does not refer specifically to Councils, but to Education Committees broadly defined. This may well include the new regional Education Authorities, unless the legislation creating them is deliberately drafted to prevent this.

Nor is the role of the Church appointees the only issue that requires attention. There is need for discussion of the entire role of religion and religious organisations in education, within an increasingly non-religious Scotland, covering such matters as the Religious Observance requirement, the nature of Religious Education (too often based on teaching one particular doctrine as true), and the inclusion, in Catholic schools, of factual information about human sexuality and birth control in Religious and Moral Education, under the control of the Council of Bishops, whose own experience of these matters is highly untypical. These are all tough questions, requiring full public discussion. They need to be addressed through conscious decision-making, rather than administrative inertia.

I thank The Times for granting me space, and Spencer Fildes, and Dan Sanderson of The Times, for the contacts that made this possible.

*A friend comments: Don’t worry about the Sun.  No-one would want to see a photo of you topless

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 July 12, 2017, in Education, Politics, Religion, Scotland and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Superb! It’s a crying shame that the content had to be what it is, but Congratulations, nonetheless. That really is something.

    Like

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