Lately, we have all heard a lot about “intolerant atheists”. I was wondering who these people were. Now I know. It’s me.
As many of my readers know, Secular Scotland is backing a parliamentary petition to change the rules regarding Religious Observance in schools from opt-out (parents must take the initiative, and are often not even notified of their right to do so), to opt-in (children are only taking part if their parents want them to). Here is what RCScotland, the Catholic Parliamentary Office, had to say in reply, in Fr Paul’s posting of June 11:
The intolerant mindset of the petitioners is perfectly illustrated by the following two comments they have made: that for our country to be considered Christian “flies in the face of Scotland’s position as a leading proponent of equality and diversity”; and asking [sic] “do you think it is right, if you are a non-Christian believer, that your child is forced to endure Christian religious observance?” [Emphasis in original].
Well yes: I do think it arrogant presumption to call this country Christian when most of its population don’t even go to church to get married. Worse, I think it morally wrong to manoeuvre children into praying to a God they don’t believe in. And so, I must confess, I am guilty as charged. And proud of it.
You have until Thursday to sign the petition here.
[Update: the petition was duly submitted with 1516 signatures, and Mark Gordon (for himslef) and Caroline Lynch )for Secular Scotland) have been invited to give evidence to the Petitions Committee in September]
Only one week remains to sign the Secular Scotland Petition to the Scottish Parliament (you can sign here), to change the procedure regarding registration for children to take part in Religious Observance in schools from opt-out to opt-in. This petition has already attracted widespread attention in broadcasts, local and national newspapers, and discussion forums both secular and religious.
I and others have already rehearsed the arguments. Parents (and children) are not being informed of their rights, and in one extreme case (the Edinburgh School Handbook template, no less), the existence of RO is not even mentioned. RO receives input from committees with their own dynamic, including in at least one case from a prominent advocate of six-day creationism. Children are left thinking that the school requires them to take part in religious ceremonies that they don’t believe in, and those parents who are aware of their rights and wish to assert them are presented with bureaucratic hurdles, up to and including the need for a personal conference with the head teacher.
My own view is clear. Children should only be taking part in religious observance if they want to be, and I do not understand why anyone, whatever their own personal beliefs, would wish it otherwise. The view from the Catholic Church, and from the Free Church of Scotland, who find themselves in agreement over this (as over so many things these days), is that the change would cause disastrous disruption to the fabric of society, and be a prelude to the complete removal of religion from the public educational system. Such anxieties speak volumes.
For what it’s worth (and I know that facts are not worth very much in some discussions), both the petitioner, Mark Gordon, and the supporting organization, Secular Scotland, are very much in favour of the retention of Religious Education in schools, given the important role of religion in cultures worldwide, both historically and in the present. Moreover, neither is demanding the removal of Religious Observance from schools (there is indeed a separate petition to that effect, in which, however, Secular Scotland plays no formal role). My own view is that the public discussion that would result from the change to opt-in would help rejuvenate RO, because its advocates, with inertia no longer on their side, would be forced to find a role for it suitable for today’s Scotland, in which the traditional beliefs can no longer be taken for granted.