This Sunday, Conference will decide our party’s policy on state-funded faith schools – and in particular on whether schools should be able to select children on the basis of their religion or belief.
I would like to think this would be an uncontentious issue.
Surely we are defined as a party by our rejection of discrimination, and by our determination to oppose entrenched privilege and inequality.
And yet there are some within this party who believe that our children should be segregated by their religion – so that Catholic children only play and learn with other Catholic children, Jewish children only play and learn with other Jewish children, and so on. And that the Jewish child whose local state school is in the same road but happens to be a Catholic school should be barred from that school because they are Jewish.
So we will be asked by some to support Option B: unrestricted religious segregation in state-funded faith schools, on the basis that it will be all right as long as they are prevented from using this as a proxy for other forms of discrimination, and are “socially and culturally inclusive”.
So it’s apparently OK for the state to segregate on the basis of religion, as long as it isn’t also discriminating in other ways such as wealth or race.
I hope Conference will reject this option overwhelmingly.
The state should not be in the business of segregating children by their religion – and if our party can bring an end to religious segregation in our schools then we will have achieved something great.
And then there’s Option C: discrimination light.
This will allow religious discrimination by faith schools – but not religious segregation.
It will keep the existing rules that allow some types of faith schools to select up to half their children on the basis of religion – and that will include many new faith schools.
But no school will be allowed to select more than half of its children by faith.
So the children who are of the wrong faith or belief will not be thrown out of the queue. They will simply be sent to the back of the queue, while the children of the right faith go to the front.
So if you think that segregation is wrong, but discrimination is OK, then you should vote for Option C.
And, finally, there’s option A.
It’s the most straightforward option by far: an end to religious discrimination in our state schools.
It offers us a country where no child can be turned away from their local state school simply because they are Jewish (or Muslim, or Hindu, or atheist – or even Catholic).
Your school could still have a religious ethos. It could choose to hold acts of worship and to offer religious instruction, but your child would not be forced to participate and would be offered meaningful alternative activities. And every school would still teach your child about religion and belief.
This is a policy that is for every parent, whatever their religious or non-religious beliefs may be.
It is a policy that we can be proud of.
* Toby Keynes is Chair of Humanist & Secularist Liberal Democrats and an activist in Croydon. He is not a blogger.