David Laws on faith schools and the Liberal Democrats

As the issue of faith schools has often been debated on this site, and it’s been back in the news with the question of sex and relationship education, we’ve asked David Laws to explain the party’s approach to these issues:

The recent Government climbdown over sex and relationship education in state funded faith schools has prompted further debate amongst liberals about what role, if any, faith schools should have in English education.

Some liberals argue that in a free society faith groups should be free to deliver a faith education, and that parents should be free to send their children to such schools. These liberals believe that state interference in faith education would be a major infringement of basic liberties.

Other liberals and Liberal Democrats argue with equal passion that faith schools have no legitimate role to play in faith education. These liberals believe that education and religious instruction should not be mixed, and they are concerned that faith schools divide the community on faith lines in an exclusive and divisive manner.

At our Spring 2009 Conference Liberal Democrats debated faith education, and we came to a clear position which I believe reflects the balance of freedoms which it is necessary to reach in this case.

The Conference clearly decided to allow faith education within the state funded sector. It respected the choices that many parents want to make, as well as the success and popularity of many faith schools. I believe that that was the right decision for a liberal party in a liberal society.

Faith schools should continue to be available, and new faith schools can be established.

But the Conference also sought to protect the rights of other citizens/taxpayers, and the freedoms which they can be denied through the approach of some faith schools.

For example, can it be right that a child living in the catchment area of a faith school whose parents want to choose that school for the child should be denied entry to the nearest taxpayer funded school on the basis of a religious test? That is the reality in many communities. Liberal Democrats therefore voted to require all faith schools to have a more inclusive approach to entry – and voted to give local authorities the powers to implement such a policy in a sensitive and flexible way.

Conference also decided that, with the exception of religious instruction, staff in faith schools should be chosen on the basis of ability to teach and not simply on the basis of faith. That is surely right – anything else is unfair both to the children who need the best education, and to the teacher with the right skills.

Finally, what of sex and relationship education? The new Bill makes this compulsory in all state funded schools. And alongside flexibility to teach this subject in a way that takes account of children’s religious and cultural backgrounds was a duty to promote equality and acceptance of diversity. It is that duty to promote equality and diversity that is totally undermined by the Government’s last-minute amendment.

Of course, this action could be defended in the name of “religious freedom”. But is it really acceptable in the 21st century that – for example – a school should be able to teach about homosexuality while at the same time making clear that it same sex relationships are morally wrong, or that hell could await those who find their sexuality defined in this way?

Can we really expect young people to be treated with respect and to gain confidence in themselves if state funded schools are allowed to teach such nonsense?

Liberal Democrats will defend the role of faith schools in state education. But state funded prejudice is not a freedom that liberals or Liberal Democrats should feel the need to justify or tolerate.

David Laws is Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in News and Op-eds.
Advert

116 Comments

  • It’s an interesting balance of freedoms you’ve proposed, but ultimately one based on an ad hoc rationalisation: that faith groups should be given the freedom (i.e. provided with public money) to preach their faith to children. If this really is where you draw the line on the balance of freedoms (religious tolerance vs. secular statehood) then can you explain why we aren’t also proposing faith-based transport systems? Why don’t we hand over control of some bus services to the catholics and some train services to hindus for example? After all, the moral code that is their supposed strength in improving education would also help in road and rail situations where tempers flare no? Hell, why not a methodist waste collection service, so long as you sign up to the Articles of Religion they’ll collect your bin on a daily basis. The argument here is flawed, religion and a secular state have no business giving money to one another.

  • I totally agree Alix, my point wasn’t that the government asks religious groups to run services, more that the bus service, as a less emotive public service, allows a clearer look at the logic of why we should let religious groups run public services. The answer I think for most people would be “not a chance”, particularly since, to continue the analogy, everyone would have to take communion before they were allowed on the 73. The reason why they aren’t trying is, as you point out, running buses doesn’t get new converts into church.

  • At our Spring 2009 Conference Liberal Democrats debated faith education, and we came to a clear position which I believe reflects the balance of freedoms which it is necessary to reach in this case.

    I actually laughed out loud that that sentence.

    David Laws must be using a different dictionary to me, because his use of the word “clear” doesn’t match any definition or usage I’ve ever come across, and I can’t figure out whether he’s using it as a synonym for “spineless” or “shameful”, the only two words that really work in that context..

  • I have to agree with Ben. Our policy makes no sense and is more a political concession to the religious lobbies than a properly liberal policy.

    It is thoroughly illiberal to force a child to go into a school that doesn’t match the religious outlook of the parents. If you live in a small community and are a catholic, but the only local schools are CoE and Muslim, then surely under our policy it must be the duty of the state to either provide a catholic school or provide the means (e.g. paying for a bus/taxi service) to get the kids to a school that’s for them (which does actually happen in some councils!!). If all state funded schools were secular this issue would never arise.

    Secular schools are the only fair way to educate kids with tax-payer money. Equal treatment for all in an environment that discriminates against none. If parents want to instil a religious ethos and religious guidance, they have 6 years before schooling starts, and then all evenings and weekends to do that.

    The short-sightedness of the faith-school approach becomes obvious once you start looking at the myriad of reports that suggest faith schools promote community division (c.f. the Cantle Report into Birmingham riots, for one). In northern ireland the use of combined schools, instead of faith segregation is considered by many one of the corner stones of ending the religious troubles. Yet in the UK we wish to perpetuate the religious segregation.

    How will our kids grow up and realise that the local catholics, atheists, sikhs and muslims are just like everyone else when they never mingle while young and only see each other through the fences of their segregated schools and communities?

    There are enough religious people that realise this as well and see the benefit of secular education, c.f. the Accord Coalition, shame us LibDems can’t.

  • Secular does not equal neutral.

  • Tom:
    In what way (with respect to religion) is secular not neutral?

    Of course if a religion is intolerant, I can see how being in an environment of tolerance might seem “not-neutral”. Is that what you mean?

  • “Liberal Democrats will defend the role of faith schools in state education”

    Sorry, that statement is false – I don’t think I am the only exeption?

  • Secular does not equal neutral.

    Yes, it absolutely does. That’s kind of the point.

    Those who claim that secularism is itself just another belief system in competition with religious world views or who conflate “secular” with “atheist” are either failing to understand the point of the secular argument (and betraying their own limited mind set in the process), or are being willfully dishonest. The equivalent non-religious counterpart to a religious sectarian school would be an overtly atheist school where children were taught that there is definitely no god, that religious institutions are inherently corrupt power structures, and that religious people are foolish, morally degenerate hypocrits. That may well be what an awful lot of atheists believe, it may even be what they tell their own kids, but they are quite categorically not demanding schools that teach such things, or even anything approaching such things.

    The argument against religious sectarianism is an argument against sectarianism, it is not an argument against religion or an argument for another competing form of sectarianism.

  • Neil Bradbury said:

    Can the atheist fundamentalists give it a rest for a year or so

    Careful, your intolerance/bigotry is showing.

    I wonder how Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, who campaigns for secular schools and is the chair of the accord coalition, feels about you calling him a fundamentalist atheist. Other members include: Hinduism Academy, Gay & Lesbian Christian Movement, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and Ekklesia (Christian Think-Tank). I suspect most of them would object to being called fundamentalist atheists.

    Secular schools are good for religions as well.

    I agree though that the political reality of sectarian privilege in our society means people believe the faith organisations’ propaganda. It’s interesting to see that most reports that evaluate the performance of faith schools suggest it’s because of no intrinsic value of their “ethos”, but because many actively select (discriminate for) the best pupils.

    The idea that secularists want all faith schools closed over night is a pathetic straw-man. A sensible measured approach of no new faith schools and a long term (couple of decades) transition allowing faith schools to become secular or to go private is a realistic approach in my view.

  • Mark and David,
    Thanks for setting out the arguments; I am now much clearer than I was after listening to the debate on sex education and faith schools..
    The government amendment still seems very strange to me as an ex-teacher; as I understand it the child will be taught opposing notions:
    # A proportion of the phenotypes in any population will be homosexuals and should not suffer discrimination. .
    # But, homosexuality is considered sinful in our religion .
    # Contraception is necessary if we are not to overpopulate the world and place strains on society
    # But contraception is sinful in our religion.
    Poor pupils, how confusing for them.

    My other problem is that the issue of LIBERALISM (about which we tend to get sanctimonious) seems to centre around parents,but not their children. Parents, it is said have a right to send their children to faith schools, but what about the rights of the child; I can’t see why parents have a right to have their children imprinted at an early age with a particular doctrine. Perhaps it is an atheist’s blind spot that I have. But the picture one gets from Catholic writers like Evelyn Waugh and Antonia Fraser is that early indoctrination can screw up the rest of life.

    My own instinct would be to go French and have state schools that teach all religions and sound biology. People could have a right to set up privately funded religious schools if they must.
    Elizabeth

  • …but what about the rights of the child; I can’t see why parents have a right to have their children imprinted at an early age with a particular doctrine.

    My own instinct would be to go French and have state schools that teach all religions and sound biology. People could have a right to set up privately funded religious schools if they must.

    I think these positions are incompatible. If protecting the rights of the child is a valid principle then it shouldn’t matter who is paying.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Mar '10 - 9:44pm

    Elizabeth

    I can’t see why parents have a right to have their children imprinted at an early age with a particular doctrine.

    Well, we had better snatch children away from their parents then, and have them brought up entirely by the state to guarantee they won’t get any nasty indocrination into any sort of culture of which the state disapproves.

    But the picture one gets from Catholic writers like Evelyn Waugh and Antonia Fraser is that early indoctrination can screw up the rest of life.

    I think you will find that Catholic private schools of the 1930s or whenever these people were young were somewaht different than today’s LEA voluntary aided Catholic school.

    People could have a right to set up privately funded religious schools if they must.

    But doesn’ that directly contradict the first sentence of yours I quoted? Or should that sentence have added to the end “unless they are rich enough to afford private education”? In any case, wouldn’t religious education be more likely to be of an illiberal form if done in private schools rather than with the oversight of the LEA?

    Anyway, religion has declined in our society, so we should have fewer screwed up kids, Yes? Rates of kiddie depression should be shrinking, yes? The symptoms of stressed kids, like anorexia, should be dying out as we move into this new happy age when no-one feels under pressure to conform to any imposed cultural values. Yes?

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Mar '10 - 9:48pm

    Martin

    The short-sightedness of the faith-school approach becomes obvious once you start looking at the myriad of reports that suggest faith schools promote community division

    So we have a problem in England with disaffected isolated Catholics causing trouble and attacking others and expressing religious hatred, thanks to being brought up in the separate schools they have. Muslims however, are all happy people who fit in well in our society, and are very tolerant, because they don’t have separate schools in the way Catholics do. Yes?

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Mar '10 - 9:58pm

    Perhaps rather than relying on prejudice and judging Catholic schools on what they might be through what one assumes they might be, people might just like to look at what the body which oversees them from the Catholic side has as its policies. See: http://www.cesew.org.uk/section.asp?id=14.

  • Well, we had better snatch children away from their parents then, and have them brought up entirely by the state to guarantee they won’t get any nasty indocrination into any sort of culture of which the state disapproves.

    So you think we should let parents physically abuse their kids then?

    See, you’re not the only one who can play the hysterical straw-man game.

    As you well know, no one has ever proposed forbidding parents from guiding, educating, or indoctrinating their children as they see fit. The absolute strongest course of action that anyone proposes based on the rights-of-the-child principle is that children have the right to make their own choices and the state should not be acting in a way that actively works to strip them of this right.

    It strikes me that a parent’s confidence in the efficacy of his own faith would have to be pretty shakey to be frightened by the thought of his child being exposed to a religiously neutral environment.

    That’s just it though, isn’t it? That’s what most terrifies the staunchest supporters of sectarian schools: the idea that their kids might make up their own minds.

  • Evelyn Waugh attended Lancing, which is a Church of England (High Church) school, not Roman Catholic. Waugh converted to Roman Catholicism as an adult. Perhaps it was the case that Waugh became a Catholic because he was screwed up, not that he was screwed up because he was a Catholic. Waugh sent his son to Downside Abbey, which he described as something fairly close to hell (Bron’s dislike of Jeremy Thorpe arose from Thorpe’s sartorial resemblance to the Downside prefects).

    I seem to recall that Antonia Fraser (and correct me if I am wrong) had largely gone through school by the time her father converted. She then married a prominent Catholic aristocrat and right-wing Tory MP, only to leave him for a left-wing Jewish atheist.

    I am not opposed to religious organisations providing public services, so long as (1) there is no proselytising, and (2) the services are open to call. That would rule out state funded “faith” schools as currently understood, but not preclude churches, mosques and temples offering to do their bit as voluntary sector organisations.

  • The tragedy of faith schools is there inherent segregation. ‘Catholic children’ got to Catholic Schools, Protestant to Protestant, Muslim to Muslim, or whatever. Ity doesn’t matter whether you take a child- or Parent- centres rights view, this segregation is bad for society. On top of this, you have religion discrimination in employment, which I cannot see how any liberal can tolerate.

    The other problem is, what this article alludes to, the opt outs they get. We think that every child should have good sex education – except uif they hgappen to be in faith schools. We think there shiould be unequivicle condemnation of homophobia – except in a faith school. These are just arbitratry rules based on the deference to religion sentiment which should have long gone.

    The absurdity of these arguments is the demon-picture painted of what secualrists want. I for one don’t want “Atheist Schools” – just schools. I want religion taught – in a sympathetic, neutral way; preferably somewhat comparative or at least a plurality of religions. Sectarianism should be fought – and that leads to free-thinking enabling children to make up their own minds. I don’t mind teachers saying their own faith position, or getting involves in extra-curricular Christian Union (or whatever) activities with interested children.

    But funelling children into schools controlled by religious authorities, with only the teachers of the ‘right’ faith, and only a nod to other religions – as inherently different, not like us, “look, we go to heaven!” is not right.

    Using public money does make a difference. We forget that the first schools were religious – if there churches cared so much, they should fund, again, their own schools, and not requiire me to pay. The straw man of only rich kids getting religious education is besides the point – if Churches cannot provide religious education for easily indoctrinable children at evening and weekends, what are they for? The idea of schools needing to be religious is an historical accident. Some people may think education as a whole requires it (I dissagree) – are we giving up on the responsibility for educating children to be the parents responsibilty? Are we accepting the fallacy that education stops at school?

    There is no excuse for religious schools. The biggest abuses are the priveleges they get, the exemptions from vital areas of eduaction, and the discriminatory employment policies. I am glad the Lib Dems are someway to addressing these. But t here are other issues than those, and these can really only be resolved by making state educxation secular.

  • Richard Church 11th Mar '10 - 8:53am

    Why are religions interested in the education business? Well, they can speak for themselves:

    The C of E Archbishops Council report of 2001: “confirmed the crucial importance of the Church schools to the whole mission of the church to children and young people, and indeed to the long term well being of the Church of England”. It recommended reserving places for Christians and that church schools should become more “distinctively Christian”, with a mission to “nourish those of the faith; encourage those of other faiths; challenge those who have no faith.”

    The Roman Catholic Bishop of Lancaster said:

    ”I have come to the conclusion that our hopes to strengthen and deepen the missionary and sacramental life of the church in this diocese depend largely on the engagement and commitment of our schools and colleges”

    “For many pupils and parents, the local catholic school is their only experience of Church – our schools are at the cutting edge of the new evangelisation.

    Two rare moents of honesty from the two major sects involved in state funded education. I simply don’t want my money as a taxpayer spent on evangilisation by any religion and I am horrified that a non religious child should be ‘challenged’ on their lack of faith in a state funded school.

    Our party policy adopted last year moves us in the direction of preventing discrimination on the basis of religion in our schools. Not far enough, but far better than anything on offer from the other parties.

    Humanist & Secularist Liberal Democrats have published a briefing on the party’s position on faith schools for the coming general election. It is available on our website http://www.hsld.org.uk/

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '10 - 10:48am

    ianm

    That’s just it though, isn’t it? That’s what most terrifies the staunchest supporters of sectarian schools: the idea that their kids might make up their own minds.

    No. The biggest thing that bugs me is the huge gulf between what “faith schools” are painted as being like by their opponents in debates like this, and the reality of LEA Voluntary Aided schools as I know them. If I see people telling me “black is white” I react, and that is what I am seeing here. Until we get an acceptance of what these schools really like, rather than lurid pictures based on prejudice, supposition, and this country’s historical anti-Catholicism, it is going to be impossible to get a rational debate.

    My own view is that private religious-based education, or “academy” style religious based education, where there is not the LEA oversight, is a far more dangerous thing. I actually think that pushing religious education underground, which is what the secularists here are mainly advocating, will worsen, not improve, the situation they are concerned about.

    The weird thing is that I wore my Catholic cultural background fairly lightly, until I came across it constantly being attacked in liberal circles. It’s not that I think everything the RC Church says or does is right, but the constant misrepresentation and false assumptions from the opponents to it which makes my sense of fair play and liberalism wish to see the other side fairly put.

    I have also come to see that the traditional religions have largely been replaced as the source of cultural values and personal guidance by the modern entertainment industry. It seems to me that the modern entertainment industry IS in effect today’s religion, the opium of the people as Marx put it in a phrase intended to be ambiguous. So it seems to me to be rather strange that the faded power of old religion is attacked so strongly, particularly those forms of it which are mainstream and so actually fairly liberal, while the modern equivalent of it in terms of its ability to dominate and force certain ways of thinking onto the people is hardly bothered with. You are fighting yesterday’s battles.

    This led me to see that traditional Christianity is, for all its faults, the only real opposition to modern cultural orthodoxy. Modern cultural orthodoxy is about the idea that establishing personal dominance is the main thing that matters in society, our personal aims should be to be powerful and dominant in terms of wealth, influence and sex – those who fail in this are damned. Evangelical Christianity, particularly in its “theology of prosperity” form, by the way, I see as part of this modern cultural orthodoxy rather than as part of the opposition as led by the mainstream Catholic and liberal Protestant Churches.

    On your reply to my “snatch the children away” line, I think it is obvious that this is a reductio ad absurdum argument. The point is to take the argument and stretch it to its limits and see how it stands up. I was replying to “I can’t see why parents have a right to have their children imprinted at an early age with a particular doctrine” by asking “OK, where do you take that to?”. Clearly there is a line somewhere between saying parents have absolute control over their kids to the point of them being permitted to physically abuse them, and saying they should have no right to bring them up in their cultural traditions. Where does a cultural tradition become “imprinted at an early age with a particular doctrine”? Should Jewish kids, for example, be snatched from their homes for fear the various home practices and rituals of Judaism are imprinting particular doctrines on those children?

    Actually, Catholic schools, if they are really about, “imprinting particular doctrines of children”, do an appallingly bad job at it. As I said, there aren’t a great many disaffected Catholics warped by isolation and brainwashing with extremist doctrines wandering our streets and causing mayhem and security problems in our country. I think you will find that happens more with another religion that doesn’t have many LEA Voluntary Aided schools. The effect mostly seems to be just kids with slightly nicer ideals and a degree of scepticism over the dominant cultural orthodoxy. No-one who has gone to a Catholic schools that I have talked with can ever recall being told “gays will go to hell” or anything like that. I certainly remember being taught in the Catholic school I attended in the 1970s about the various forms of contraception, but I don’t at all remember being taught the official Catholic argument against them. From conversations with younger people, it’s much the same now.

    So, if I am to agree with you and your lot, you are essentially telling me I must deny the evidence of my own eyes and ears and put aside all I remember as some sort of false memory.

    You might suppose from this, that if you do want to convince me, you will need to try a different tack. Yes. It seems to me that the tack you are trying is more one of making yourself feel good by kicking something which everyone knows it is socially acceptable to kick, than actually really trying to win hearts and minds.

  • Matthew

    Right, so while everyone else is discussing policy on faith schools in general you’re actually discussing your own obsession with your Catholic persecution complex. You don’t support faith schools because you have anything actually positive to say about them, you support them because you have a personal grudge against those who oppose them and can only see the discussion in terms of Catholics vs Everyone Else.

    Thanks for quoting that sentence of mine though because I’ve just realised that it’s quite wrong:

    That’s just it though, isn’t it? That’s what most terrifies the staunchest supporters of sectarian schools: the idea that their kids might make up their own minds.

    This is of course nonsense, because the staunchest supporters of sectarian schools aren’t actually the parents at all, but rather those associated with the religious organisations that run the things.

  • Jennie makes a very good point and I agree I wouldn’t want to HAVE to put my child in a faith school if I feared indoctrination..
    But I actually chose, as an atheist, to put my son into a Cof E primary, because I wanted him to be able to choose faith if it suited his temperament; the result was that at 6-7 he would ask me about God. I would say that “some people believe……….” and try to remain neutral. But he would always come back with “but what do YOU think…….”
    and I would have to explain evolution, which of course the Cof E hadn’t. He seemed to come round to the view that “heaven is too difficult, I prefer evolution” and there it remained.
    This should make it clear that parents have every opportunity to explain their doctrine at an early age. And what they believe is very important to the child.
    It shouldn’t need to be reinforced by a narrow faith school. And of course most state schools nowadays have comparative religion studies, giving the option of choice.
    Among the religions around I find the universal life force idea (is it Hindu?) quite attractive because it complements the biological universality of cell microstructure.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '10 - 1:18pm

    ianm

    Right, so while everyone else is discussing policy on faith schools in general you’re actually discussing your own obsession with your Catholic persecution complex. You don’t support faith schools because you have anything actually positive to say about them, you support them because you have a personal grudge against those who oppose them and can only see the discussion in terms of Catholics vs Everyone Else.

    If you like, yes. This is part of me being a liberal. I will naturally take the side of the underdog, particularly if I see no-one else is taking that side and I think there’s an injustice being done in no-one putting the contrary view. Why do you think that is a bad attitude to take? Are you one of those people who will moan and complain when some defendant they think of as “evil” is given a defence lawyer?

    Why is it that when attitudes of some Muslims are attacked, we are told we must see this as “Islamophobia” and condemn it, and make sure positive things are said about Islam to make Muslims feels better? But when Catholics are attacked, any attempt to say the attack is over-the-top, or based on picking out small numbers of extreme attitudes by extreme adherents, is condemned as “you just have a persecution complex”?

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '10 - 1:28pm

    Elizabeth

    and I would have to explain evolution, which of course the Cof E hadn’t. He seemed to come round to the view that “heaven is too difficult, I prefer evolution” and there it remained.

    “of course”? The RC Church has no problem with evolution, you can find quotes from back in the 19th century where leading Catholics of the time said so. This should apply to the CofE and more so – the CofE is historically a liberal Protestant Church.

    The idea that evolution is at odds with Christianity is a barbarous 20th century invention. Sadly, there are parts of the CofE which seem to be getting taken over by these USA-originated “fundamentalist” ideas. These people in reality know neither their Bible nor their Christian history.

  • Matthew –
    Changing history, and saying that Catholicism *isn’t really like that* won’t help the argument about faith schools. Yet again the proponants of faith fail to deal with the issues, wiggle about, change the subject, or plead persecution.

    So Darwin’s theory was all dandy for 19th century Christians, was it? Then suddenly in the 20th Century (evil modernity!) some *not real American Christians* distorted the Truth…

    I’m sure you’ve seen 19th Century ape-men cartoons, or heard of Bishop Wilberforce…

  • Elizabeth: it’s not that I “fear” indoctrination: I’m watching it happen. My family is multi-faith – CofE, atheist, muslim, agnostic, and plain not bothered – and I am bang alongside the idea that my child should be able to make up her own mind. Her school is not. She is constantly told that the existence of God is an irrefutable fact.

  • Sorry, perhaps that last comment was a bit unfriendly…

    This topic does bring it out though, doesn’t it?

  • No bigotry here at all:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/09/denver-archbishop-chaput-_n_491950.html

    But imaginaryJesus said it was OK. So that’s all right then.

  • If you like, yes. This is part of me being a liberal. I will naturally take the side of the underdog, particularly if I see no-one else is taking that side and I think there’s an injustice being done in no-one putting the contrary view. Why do you think that is a bad attitude to take? Are you one of those people who will moan and complain when some defendant they think of as “evil” is given a defence lawyer?

    Hah, you sure do have a funny definition of “underdog”. That’s hardly a word I’d use to describe the Catholic Church!

    Why is it that when attitudes of some Muslims are attacked, we are told we must see this as “Islamophobia” and condemn it, and make sure positive things are said about Islam to make Muslims feels better? But when Catholics are attacked, any attempt to say the attack is over-the-top, or based on picking out small numbers of extreme attitudes by extreme adherents, is condemned as “you just have a persecution complex”?

    Told by whom, Matthew? I’ve certainly never said you mustn’t criticise the attitudes of certain muslims, In fact I’ve been accused of islamophobia myself on this very site for doing just that. There’s no inconsistency in my position.

    Perhaps you should try engaging with what people actually say instead of arguing with what you imagine they all think?

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '10 - 6:10pm

    HarryD

    Changing history, and saying that Catholicism *isn’t really like that* won’t help the argument about faith schools. Yet again the proponants of faith fail to deal with the issues, wiggle about, change the subject, or plead persecution.

    So, it is permitted to use the argument against “faith schools” that they will teach creationism, but it is not permitted to use the argument that creationism is not a position which is held by those responsible for nearly all “faith schools”?

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '10 - 6:14pm

    Colin W

    No bigotry here at all:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/09/denver-archbishop-chaput-_n_491950.html

    But imaginaryJesus said it was OK. So that’s all right then.

    It is not the position of the RC Church that Bishops when making decisions are under any direct instruction from imaginary Jesus or anyone else. Like any other middle managers, they may make their decisions within the requirements of the organisation but with a great deal of personal discretion. It is not the position of the RC Church that these decisions are always right.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '10 - 6:20pm

    iainm

    Why is it that when attitudes of some Muslims are attacked, we are told we must see this as “Islamophobia” and condemn it, and make sure positive things are said about Islam to make Muslims feels better? But when Catholics are attacked, any attempt to say the attack is over-the-top, or based on picking out small numbers of extreme attitudes by extreme adherents, is condemned as “you just have a persecution complex”?

    Told by whom, Matthew?

    Lynne Featherstone MP, as reported in https://www.libdemvoice.org/race-equality-and-the-liberal-democrats-18213.html in these columns very recently.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '10 - 6:27pm

    iainm

    Perhaps you should try engaging with what people actually say instead of arguing with what you imagine they all think?

    Well, that’s rich because that’s precisely what I’m saying to you and your lot. I do not feel that anything at all that I have written here has been engaged with at all. Rather there has been the usual throwing of insults that happens when anyone has the temerity to do anything but join in the kicking. Whenever I engage in this sort of debate, that’s all I ever get – the usual stupid insults, and utterly closed minds.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '10 - 6:42pm

    iainm

    Hah, you sure do have a funny definition of “underdog”. That’s hardly a word I’d use to describe the Catholic Church!

    Well it sure feels like it from where I am sitting. I know that whenever this sort of discussion comes up in liberal circles I am likely to be in a minority of one. And there even the mildest criticism of the “RC Church and all associated with it are evil” line, pointing out that some of the claims made by opponents are exaggerated or are picking something out of context or are focusing on some rather extreme individual or as just plain contradicted by easily obtainable material, are met with the usual stuff that has been shown here.

    So it seems to me when it comes to the RC Church, liberalism is thrown out of the window. I am not even able to get to the real liberal points I was trying to bring up in this debate, points where I think there are liberal arguments on both sides, because people like you ignore what I am actually saying and instead go into your usual anti-Catholic rants.

    The RC Church most definitely has been humbled and no longer has the dominating voice it once had in Europe. And I feel that is a thoroughly good thing. You however, prefer to fight the old battles, because they give you such comfort, rather than consider who are the mind-controllers now. You do not like to consider anyone who questions your orthodoxies. You do not like to think, because thinking is hard. That is why you react in such a stereotypical fashion when I challenge you to think in a different way.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '10 - 7:54pm

    Jennie

    My daughter is forced to go to a religious school. She has no other option. Don’t you DARE try and tell me this is about liberalism. This is about kowtowing to the rich and powerful religious lobby, and I am growing increaingly irritated by it.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I recall your position is that you are in one of those rural places where the local primary school is a Church of England school and there is no reasonable alternative. I have no wish to defend that situation, it is wrong. I wish to defend only the availability of religious-oriented schools as a choice, and that within a state system where there is oversight of them, so I oppose the creation of religious-oriented “academies” which do not come under the Local Authority Voluntary Aided system.

  • How about a policy that makes it a requirement that every child has guaranteed access to a good quality secular school should they wish it. A system that means everyone, as minimum, has access to secular, i.e. a non-sectarian, school place.

    As long as all the secular places are provided for, then funding can be made available for additional schools that have a faith character. Funding moves as required between the schools based on the number of pupils that apply (which I believe is a general policy Nick favours, i.e. money following the pupils). If the faith schools are full then pupils have at least a secular school to go to that while not promoting their favourite beliefs will at least not try to teach them opposing views as fact, in effect a school that treats all religions with equal respect but none as intrinsically valid. If there are enough faith pupils then another faith school can be built with the funds that follow those pupils.

    Of course, faith schools will lose funding if more places are requested at the secular school; expansion of an existing, or new secular school always a priority before specialist, i.e. faith, schools. A policy therefore that favours secular education (which is only correct in a secular democracy), but allows for faith education once all secular demand has been met.

    This would ensure that parents never have to send their kids to a school that contradicts their beliefs; at worst a school that doesn’t encourage/support their beliefs.

  • Matthew – is that because your arguments have been ‘we don’t have rabid Catholics in the street’? and ‘it would be worse if you DONT fund us’?

    To be honest, I would object long before we got anywhere near dissafected Catholics, but also, you conveniently include only England in your analysis. The second is merely blackmail.

    [i]So, it is permitted to use the argument against “faith schools” that they will teach creationism, but it is not permitted to use the argument that creationism is not a position which is held by those responsible for nearly all “faith schools”?[/i]

    Apart from the fact that I haven’t explicitly mentioned creationism, or anyone here (I believe) – although it happens to be a perfectly good argument – but the proof is in your words: ‘nearly all’.Once again, if there are ANY schools teaching creationism that would be a worry, and there would be things I would disagree with long before it came to that.

    But of course, YET AGAIN, you have barely dealt with the objections raised, and continue your persecution mania.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '10 - 10:06am

    Joe Otten

    What really bothers me is the filthy stench of relativism implicit in the idea that the state enforces the teaching of contradictory facts to different children.

    And what bothers me is the filthy stench of absolutism implicit in the idea that the state can determine a particular position and say that this position alone must be taught as the only true one. What is considered as “neutral” varies immensely over time and space, so you may, but I don’t, trust the idea that it can so easily be determined that we can force what we think it is as what must be taught as the state truth.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '10 - 10:27am

    HarryD

    Matthew – is that because your arguments have been ‘we don’t have rabid Catholics in the street’? and ‘it would be worse if you DONT fund us’?

    To be honest, I would object long before we got anywhere near dissafected Catholics, but also, you conveniently include only England in your analysis. The second is merely blackmail.

    And the opponents of “faith schools” conveniently include only Northern Ireland in their analysis. It is always brought up as if what happened there is absolutely what the provision of “faith schools” must lead to. A balanced assessment might look further afield rather than just at one place where there are other cultural and historical aspects. Someone who was actually interested in what really works and in analysing all data, rather than in striking a position based on starting with their own prejudice and looking for evidence to support it, would bring in the schools system in the Netherlands every bit as much as they bring in Northern Ireland.

    You accuse me of not dealing with the objections raised, but my problem is when I bring in facts and rational arguments I am met just with prejudiced sneering.

    Here is a good example – I have pointed out, and it is quite true – that Voluntary Aided Catholic schools in England do not seem to have led to what the opponents of “faith schools” claim they must inevitably lead to. Yet my raising this purely factual objection to the argument is treated as if it was intended to be some sort of threat.

    My point on “creationism” was again meant to be a purely factual one. Opponents of “faith schools” like to bring it up as if this is fairly standard in such schools. I have made the point that it is not. Now, if I were dealing with rational liberal people who could manage a respectful argument, I could take this further. But since I am dealing with hysterical and prejudiced people, I cannot.

    There is a serious point here which goes “OK, the faith schools we have at present tend to teach their faith in a fairly liberal way, and they do not hold to extremist interpretations of their faith. But if we accept them on that basis, can we draw a line if more extreme and illiberal interpretations demand their own faith schools?”. I would like actually to be able to get to the point where we cold have a serious discussion on that issue, since I am certainly not made up in my mind on how it might be tackled. I am not able to get to that point because all I am met with is screaming anti-religious people who wish to paint any sort of cultural attachment to religion as if it were the worse form of plodding “fundamentalist” literalism.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '10 - 10:36am

    Joe Otten

    I think we’re slightly off-target obsessing about governance here. Faith schools and community schools are largely governed by the same sort of people, and any judgement about which lot will do better will probably be founded on prejudice.

    No, governance is an important issue. If I were dealing with rational liberal people who understood rational liberal argument, the point I was making here would be understood. But it is not understood, because I am dealing with screaming hysterical people who as soon as anything but the orthodox “religion is bad, teaching it in schools is evil” line is disagreed with, close down their thinking capacity and just throw whatever abuse they can. So it is that they like to use this term “faith school” because it conveniently blurs the distinction between the Voluntary Aided school under LEA oversight, and the sort of semi-private “academy” in which the religious or business indoctrination is there not because there is any community which desires it but because a wealthy man will pay for it. I am utterly opposed to this second sort of “faith school”, although because Blair etc has been keen on them, they are put forward as if this is what a school with a religious ethos must be, when it is in almost all cases not.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '10 - 10:53am

    HarryD

    Matthew – is that because your arguments have been ‘we don’t have rabid Catholics in the street’? and ‘it would be worse if you DONT fund us’?

    To be honest, I would object long before we got anywhere near dissafected Catholics, but also, you conveniently include only England in your analysis. The second is merely blackmail.

    No, I mean the second as a useful observation of which a person who was capable of rational argument might take note. Roman Catholicism in England was largely the religion of Irish immigrants. It had much about it which we now associate with Islam. It was certainly capable of being interpreted in an extreme and politically oriented way. It was quite a closed culture. Yet the Catholic school movement has not worked to engender social division and disaffection and religious militancy. Quite the reverse.

    We ARE seeing social division and disaffection and religious militancy in Islam here. That may not be unconnected to the way the religion is passed on. I rather suspect that Islam properly taught in a liberal manner openly under Local Authority oversight would result in better integrated and more liberal Islam.

    I note also that in the USA, where religious teaching in state schools is banned, the more extreme interpretations of religion flourish. I do not think these are unconnected.

    I actually do feel that if Roman Catholicism were taught mainly by enthusiasts in private Sunday schools, as the secularists want, a likely consequence would be the capture of its teaching by more extreme elements. I don’t mean this as a threat. A person who was capable of rational argument and who actually intended to engage with what I was writing rather than throw abuse would have seen my point here.


    But of course, YET AGAIN, you have barely dealt with the objections raised, and continue your persecution mania

    “It’s just persecution mania” is a good line to throw at anyone arguing for a consideration of their position, isn’t it? Gay rights campaigners, anti-racism campaigners, feminists etc, could – and have – all been shut up with the same line. What you are saying is “keep quiet and accept what orthodoxy tells you to accept, we don’t like uppity people who dare to stand up to superior types like me whose views are right. You have no right to your feelings – shut up, they embarrass me”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '10 - 10:57am

    Joe Otten

    Anyway, Matthew, you seem to be coming round to the right side. Good show.

    I have not changed my position at all. If you believe that I have by the words “you seem to be coming round to the right side” that indicates a clear failure originally to engage with the argument I was making, and rather a prejudiced supposition that I was making some other argument.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '10 - 11:12am

    Joe Otten

    Of course the state isn’t competent to determine religious truth. And this implies that it isn’t competent to detemine half a dozen contradictory religious truths, imposing each of them on a different subset of the population. Moreover a state doing the latter knows it is lying to at least 5 of the 6 groups. What is wrong with at least trying to be an honest broker?

    Your view of what religion is like as shown here is laughably incorrect. You are unable to escape from your prejudiced assumption that the only form of religion that can exist is the worst sort of plodding “fundamentalist” one. Try any of the many inter-faith dialogue groups to see how differently they view things to how you do.

    Now, since you have got it so absolutely wrong, what makes you think you have the capacity to be an “honest broker”?

  • The funding of segregated “faith” schools is not the only way in which the state gives public money to organised religion. Another is the charitable status afforded by the common law to the holding of religious gatherings and ceremonies, and the dissemination of religious propaganda (known in the old case-law as “trusts tending to further religion”). Is this justified? I have no objection to hospitals and aid organisations that are run by religious groups receiving tax privileges, provided their services are open to all, and that the recipients are not subjected to religious proselytising. Also, I see nothing wrong in tax privileges being given to those who maintain historic buildings (ie, churches, catherdals, etc). However, I object most strongly to relgiious propaganda being tax exempt. As strongly as I would to atheist, materialist, political, or any other kind of ideological propaganda being tax exempt. Organised religion should cough up its fair share as the rest of us do.

  • In an attempt to wind the debate down to manageable pieces, I will suggest what we perhaps have in common. You are welcome to revert to previous exchanges, but I am trying to be constructive.

    First though I want to tackle one thing you said – which is about labelling of persuecution etc. I find it unfair to attribute your position to one analagous with homosexuals, ethnic minorities, or women, for the simple reason that they were (are, perhaps) at a power disadvantage – whereas what we are seeing in this case is state supported religious previlege. It is not perhaps the best argument (if one at all), but it is valid within its own limitations.

    I suspect we are against teaching creationism, or anything else based on faith taught as science
    I suspect we are against sectarianist teaching
    I suspect, though with less confidence, that we are against discriminatory employment
    I suspect that we think an open honest account of other views should be persented
    I suspect we think of education as providing the basis for autonomus thought in young people
    …but also ‘ethical’ strength and judgement

    We of course disagree about the value of religion, but not on the importance of teaching (about) it

    We disagree about the role that religious bodies should play a role, probably because we disagree about the merits of religion (though not necessarily; at least, religious people can be for secular schooling).

    So what is the kernal of the hostility? Much is probably needless, inefficient heat. I realise that I can cause it, and perhaps have here (though not for being wrong, I would add…!). Perhaps the above is simplistic but I hope it shows that we have much in common about what is important in education, and that we can discover where we actually disagree fundamentally.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '10 - 5:43pm

    HarryD

    The current situation withe Voluntary Aided schools is a compromise which was reached in the early parts and up to the middle of the last century which I think has worked, at least in England. My own experience with it are with Catholic schools in southern England, and in the part of London where I live, which does not have a high proportion of Muslims but does have a high proportion of non-white Catholics. I think it is fair to explain this, I am happy to accept it may bias my views on this. From where I am, I do not see the racial divisions which it is claimed these schools create. The Catholic schools I am familiar with have similar racial mix to the other schools. My experience also is that the Catholic schools I know of are fairly liberal in how they interpret the faith.

    Thus, much of the claims made in this sort of debate by the opponents of these things just do not chime with my own experience. That is already enough to wind me up. Then when I try to explain this, and all i get back is “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah” stuff it makes it worse. The failure to distinguish between the various varieties of Christianity, so that it is painted on terms of its worst loud-mouthed sort (i.e. USA-inspired evangelical Christianity) makes it worse still.

    I actually do think the Church here in the UK is way on the back footing, it does not have the wealth and power you insist it does have. I don’t know about the CofE, but the RC Church in England and Wales, being still to large extent the church of various poor immigrant groups, is not wealthy or influential. Henry VIII or his governments made sure of that, did they not?

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Mar '10 - 7:04pm

    HarryD

    First though I want to tackle one thing you said – which is about labelling of persuecution etc. I find it unfair to attribute your position to one analagous with homosexuals, ethnic minorities, or women, for the simple reason that they were (are, perhaps) at a power disadvantage – whereas what we are seeing in this case is state supported religious previlege

    On persecution, it was not me who introduced the word.

    Nevertheless, I am pointing out that when this sort of debate happens, and I intervene from a point of view which tries to correct what I believe to be misconceptions about the Catholic Church, or statements based on extreme elements of that Church or other groups who call themselves “Christians”, or on what Catholics thought or said long ago as if they still thought and said them now, what I tend to get back is further comments of the same sort, or material intended to be abusive and entirely lacking in reflection of what I actually said.

    In this group, Liberal Democrat Voice, and other of a similar orientation, this is not something that occasionally happens. It ALWAYS happens. It is almost impossible to get a sensible facts-based discussion in which both sides respect the other side’s views on these issue because of that.

    I almost did not bother responding to this David Laws article, not because I didn’t want to, but because I knew it would just lead to more personal abuse aimed at me, and more hugely wasted time dealing with abusive people who make further comments that need to be answered rather than engage with what I actually wrote. And so it did.

    What do you call that?

  • Matthew,

    The reason liberals tend to have little time for the RC church is because Roman Catholicism is practically the perfect antithesis to liberalism. Pretty simple really. Your argument seems to be that no one has the right to dislike the RC church because there are other antitheses just as bad or possibly even worse than Catholicism, and I’m afraid it just doesn’t work that way.

    If you’ve managed to somehow reconcile your Catholicism with your liberalism then great, good for you. Personally I think you’ve done it through pure cognitive dissonance – by inventing your own cherry-picked, rose-tinted version of Catholicism that bears little resemblence to reality – which is why you lash out so hysterically whenever anyone threatens your little fantasy, but that’s just my opinion based on my own experience. No doubt that will elicit another round of abuse, but there you go. Surely if your subjective experience of growing up amongst the sweetness and kittens of English inter-faith tolerance allows you to support faith schools then my subjective experience of growing up amongst the sectarian hatred of Scotland entitles me to oppose them.

  • Some of the anti-religious bigotry in these comments is a disgrace.

    For example – Perhaps it was the case that Waugh became a Catholic because he was screwed up, not that he was screwed up because he was a Catholic.

    I thought liberalism was about tolerance, not ignorance. If you want to be a bigot, join the BNP.

  • Joe – I took that to mean that he got help from the Catholic Church, or at least consolation, rather than anything anti-religious.

    Matthew-
    Well, I suspect that this has become a somewhat tribal thing. I can’t see the benefits that you ascribe to Faith Schools, because I am not religious. I disagree with them on principle, and any harm that comes is additional. Of course, I could recognise I good school whether it was religious or not – but I think that the good aspects are done irrespective of its religiousity, or even despite it. Furthermore, I think they could be improved by withdrawing the affiliation to whatever creed they hold.

    I have outlined some of the problems, you have said they are not hate-machines, fair enough. You have said (or at least it has been mentioned) that they should be provided as part of parental choice: disputable, especially since what we are asking for does not take away the ability of children to be educated religiously elsewhere or outside school time. It also calls others, of different faiths and none, to support this; it forces children to be without any neutral secular education (this is the answer to your point about taking children away from religious parents, they are qualitively different).

    You have said that having no faith schools will force faith education “underground”. I think this is the wrong term: there is nothing illegal, hidden, or dangerous about providing sunday schools or evening classes. It is not even removing religious education. all it could possibly do is reduce the number of children who attend proselytising instruction (even if the schools you work with do not!) since parents can’t be bothered, actually, to send their children to them. And one must be deeply suspicious if the only thing that is stopping extrenmism is that they are in school: either the teacher/religious instructors are liberal or not, and those extremist parents will probably send their children to extreme churches, or teach extremist thinking at the home.

    I would also mention, that if the schools are all dandy about homosexuality, and teaching quality sex education and the like, why are they so voiciferous in defending their exemptions to the contrary?

    I guess what I would like to see from this is recognition that secularists are not (all) rabid atheist zealots, that we probably have similar views about what constitutes good education (removing the religious dimension); I can certainly concede that there are better faith school than many community schools.

  • I can see it must be hard, Matthew, to take a minority position on something as infalmmable as religious education: but could I reind you that your first phrase on this page was: “Well, we had better snatch children away from their parents then”.

    That certainly put my back up. Anyway…

  • I live in a LibDem held constituency. The article by David Laws – if it represents official LibDem policy – means that I will be unable to vote LibDem at the General Election. This saddens me because the majority of the comments on this article seem to put the same point of view as I hold. It is a measure of the fear of religious power still felt by politicians in Britain. Sectarian schools are divisive, unfair in terms of admission and employment policy, they are manipulative of children and they promote apartheit (separate development). They are wrong.
    I cannot vote New Labour or Tory for the same reason. Democracy has failed me.

  • get rid of faith schools, they are devisive and totally non-cohesive in our society

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Mar '10 - 9:21pm

    iainm

    The reason liberals tend to have little time for the RC church is because Roman Catholicism is practically the perfect antithesis to liberalism. Pretty simple really. Your argument seems to be that no one has the right to dislike the RC church because there are other antitheses just as bad or possibly even worse than Catholicism, and I’m afraid it just doesn’t work that way.

    I have not said people do not have a right to dislike the Roman Catholic Church. My argument was that much of the criticism of this Church that I see in liberal circles seems to me to be based on an image of this Church which is out of date, and on prejudiced assumptions which in my own knowledge and experience just are not true. These critics then refuse to listen to any case for the defence, and thus show a thoroughly illiberal attitude. Liberalism isn’t about freedom for those you like. It’s about freedom too for those you dislike, and a degree of tolerance which means when you oppose people you do so from a position of knowing what their position is rather than a prejudiced assumption that it is some other position and a refusal to listen to anyone who tries to correct your prejudice.

  • Matthew

    That’s precisely the problem. You automatically assume that those whom you are trying to correct with your “knowledge and experience” must necessarily be talking from a position of prejudice or ignorance and have no experiences of their own, and you go on the attack from there. It doesn’t even seem to occur to you that they might have experiences of their own which just happen to contradict yours, and being no less subjective than yours are just as valid a base on which to build an argument.

    There is nothing illiberal about refusing to set aside your own experience in favour of someone else’s just because they shout at you.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '10 - 10:31am

    HarryD

    I can see it must be hard, Matthew, to take a minority position on something as infalmmable as religious education: but could I reind you that your first phrase on this page was: “Well, we had better snatch children away from their parents then”.

    That was in reply to the point

    I can’t see why parents have a right to have their children imprinted at an early age with a particular doctrine.

    Nowhere did I accuse anyone of snatching children away from their parents. I was simply making a point about the balance between parents bringing up their children to follow the parents’ own culture, and the right of children to dissent from that and go their own way. The point was made by considering what would happen if we took an extremely unbalanced position one way on this.

    There is a genuine dilemma here, it is really what this argument is about. But it seems the points I am trying to make are not getting heard, because people just assume malicious intent on my behalf and on the behalf those whose case I am trying at least to give a justification for on liberal grounds.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '10 - 10:55am

    iainm

    That’s precisely the problem. You automatically assume that those whom you are trying to correct with your “knowledge and experience” must necessarily be talking from a position of prejudice or ignorance and have no experiences of their own, and you go on the attack from there. It doesn’t even seem to occur to you that they might have experiences of their own which just happen to contradict yours, and being no less subjective than yours are just as valid a base on which to build an argument.

    Well, I have been open about my experience, to the point of suggesting why it might be more benign than others have experienced. I provided a link to the website of the Catholic Education Service, which oversees Catholic voluntary aided schools, this gives the material used for religious education in these schools, so anyone who doubts what I am saying could go and check on that website whether it really does take the approach it is being accused of.

    When I myself find material from the RC Church seems to be full of stuff about peace and justice and caring for others, and opposition to greed and to the idea that life should be all about stamping on others to get self-satisfaction, I find it hard to reconcile that with what I see written about the RC Church from its opponents in debates like this. I have constantly tried to out the point that I am not saying the RC Church is right on everything, I am not saying it is faultless, far from it. All I ma saying is that the relentlessly negative image that comes across in debates like this seems to me, from what I know, to be unbalanced.

    I read the Catholic press, so I have some idea of the debates that are going on within the RC Church, between liberals and conservatives, how issues like the paedophilia problems are being dealt with, what is being said there about how Catholic schools teach religion. And what I read there seems to me to be completely different from the image I find put about in secular liberal discussions on these issues. Yet it seems to be absolutely impossible to say this, to try and put any sort of balanced image.

    You have won, iainm. It is clear from the sort of comments we are getting here that most people think you are telling the truth and I am lying. Most people think you are sane and I am demented. Yet I set out – from the first time I ventured into liberal discussion groups by “coming out” as someone who was a Catholic and not the sort who said that only to join in the abuse aimed at that Church – not to defend everything the Catholic Church says or does, but simply because I felt the way it gets covered in this sort of discussion seemed to me to be so one-sided, and the other side did at least deserve a hearing.

    The weird thing is, the abuse and illiberalism I have met on this has tended to push me more towards the official RC position than against it. I started off feeling really quite neutral on most of these issues, yes, I had a cultural attachment to Catholicism because that is how I was brought up, but it wasn’t something that bothered much to me or influenced me much. But then I found when even a casual “hey, it isn’t quite like that” met with such a torrent of nasty attacks, often personal against me, and generally bringing up more lines where I just felt “hey, here’s yet more stuff I KNOW from my personal experience is not true or is at least very distorted”, I couldn’t help wanting to sympathise more with the people being attacked. That is how I am, it may be just perversity, but I always like to hear both sides of an argument, and so when I find some group being attacked and attacked and offered no real right of reply, my instinct is to give them that reply, even if it means doing a bit of research myself to see how it looks from their side and why they say what they day.

    What I am saying here is the honest truth. I can say no more. I will not lie just because that pleases you and makes me a more acceptable person to liberal orthodoxy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '10 - 11:04am

    HarryD

    You have said that having no faith schools will force faith education “underground”. I think this is the wrong term: there is nothing illegal, hidden, or dangerous about providing sunday schools or evening classes.

    I disagree. The argument being used here is that religious education is dangerous, and I agree with that.

    That is why I am more comfortable with it being done where it can get the most scrutiny, as in the Voluntary Aided system. I think that system has worked well in England. I have tried to say that, no-one has listened to or responded to the points I made there. All the assumption was that I had some sort of malicious intention, and therefore what I wrote has been interpreted by all present completely differently from what I meant.

    I am sorry it is impossible to get across the points I am trying to make. I am obviously wasting my time trying.

  • Matthew,

    Your position would be completely reasonable if it really was representative of the way you conduct yourself, but I don’t think it is. It may well be true that you have had countless prior discussions and frustrating arguments on this subject in a variety of contexts and have suffered frustration, abuse and closed-mindedness even when demonstrating great patience yourself, but you can’t just pick up where you left off and start projecting your previous exacerbations onto new conversations as if you’re continuing the same discussion with the same people. I am not all the secularists you have ever argued with. If you go straight for the nuclear button and get all hysterical right from the off then that’s all I can judge your arguments on. It doesn’t matter to me how many times in the past you have quite reasonably said “hey, here’s yet more stuff I KNOW from my personal experience is not true or is at least very distorted” because I wasn’t there to see it. All I’ve ever seen of your opinions on this subject is instant hysterical defensiveness and name-calling against anyone who disagrees with you.

    No one is asking you to lie or suggesting that your experiences aren’t true. I’d just prefer it if you didn’t automatically label me as ignorant or bigotted just because my experiences are different from yours.

  • Matthew, it’s a matter of principle, a matter of accepting the the only way for a people to integrate in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society is for people to interact with each other in all walks of life and at every age.

    The idea that you can create social cohesion by segregating children on religious grounds and then sitting them down and telling them that those who don’t believe in the true religion are okay after all; just isn’t going to cut it.

    That’s why there are a considerable number of religious people and organisations that support the abolition of faith schools. However “good” the catholic schools of your experience are, I’m sure there are also bad ones. Even if they are good schools, they are still segregating children, robbing them of the chance to interact daily with people of other cultures, other religions and beliefs; those same beliefs and cultures they will need to work and interact with for the rest of their lives.

    Is it truly liberal to deny children the interactions they need to live in a multicultural society? How would that benefit them? It’s not like anyone is suggesting kids shouldn’t learn about their parents religion, there’s loads of opportunity for that outside of school.

    I agree with you that religious teaching is dangerous and should be monitored; but having monitored and regulated faith schools doesn’t achieve this it merely provides one more avenue for introducing the danger you talk about. Instead of just sunday school., and church and parents at home providing the dangerous religious education, what you also have is schools reinforcing it or providing it themselves; the inspectors can’t spot everything.

    What’s more, if kids are interacting daily with other kids from different cultures, different religions and beliefs and seeing that they are just like themselves that will do considerably more to combat the more extreme religious teachings they may encounter elsewhere than sitting them down for an hour a week and telling them that despite all those other people being totally wrong and not going to heaven, they are still okay.

  • If the purpose of this thread is to have a serious disucssion about the issue of “faith” schools and state support for organised religion, can we at least chuck the demeaning Americanism, “kids”?

    My understanding of Matthew’s position is that state-funded “faith” schools are acceptable, (1) because there is a significant demand for them, and (2) they either do not indoctrinate their students with religion, or if they do, they are so bad at it there is nothing about them that need be of concern to secularists. If (2) is true, then why is organised religion so keen that these schools continue to exist?

    I would also be interested to hear Matthew’s views on that other area of state support for organised religion, which is charitable status.

  • libdemocrat 15th Mar '10 - 1:15pm

    DEVISIVE…not inclusive and they are simply wrong

    We are all the same and should all go to the same schools. Stop social engineering!!!

    This is so backward and all kids need diversity in schools which faith schools go against.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '10 - 1:47pm

    Martin

    That’s why there are a considerable number of religious people and organisations that support the abolition of faith schools. However “good” the catholic schools of your experience are, I’m sure there are also bad ones. Even if they are good schools, they are still segregating children, robbing them of the chance to interact daily with people of other cultures, other religions and beliefs; those same beliefs and cultures they will need to work and interact with for the rest of their lives.

    Well, there we go again, assumptions that just do not hold up when one investigates reality.

    If what you say is true, then given the number of Catholic schools we have, English society would be riddled with kids (Sesenco – I don’t like Americanisms, but if this was originally one I feel it’s domesticated now enough to be usuable) who are inward-looking extreme Catholics due to being educated in this way. Where are they? It’s very, very rare to meet a young person who is like that. Young people who are weird mixed-up Christians tend to be those who have come into contact with evangelical Protestant organisations.

    If anything, my experience is that people who have been brought up in a background to have some understanding of their own religious culture find it easier to understand those of another religious culture than those who have been brought up in a purely secular environment. What tends to happen when you mix people with different mainstream religious backgrounds together is that we all get on fine. We can see our common points, even joke about them. We can agree to differ on other points. We also tend to find we agree that the real problem comes from two directions – aggressive secularists who have weird ideas about us and tend to think of us in terms of those fundamentalists who actually we disilke as much as they do, and the fundamentalists themselves. We end up coming to the conclusion that the aggressive secularists and the fundamentalists are the same sort of person because they have the same completely wrong idea about what religion is.


    Is it truly liberal to deny children the interactions they need to live in a multicultural society?

    You ever seen the variety of colour of the kids coming out of your average Catholic school?


    What’s more, if kids are interacting daily with other kids from different cultures, different religions and beliefs and seeing that they are just like themselves that will do considerably more to combat the more extreme religious teachings they may encounter elsewhere than sitting them down for an hour a week and telling them that despite all those other people being totally wrong and not going to heaven, they are still okay.

    There we go again. You can’t resist it can you? Look – I have given you the reference, you go and look it up and show me where it is that Catholic schools teach that those of other religions don’t go to heaven. This isn’t actually the position of the of RC Church these days, let alone what is taught in RC schools.

    So, you tell me that people like you can can act as good arbiters on what is neutral religious teaching, yet everything your write suggests your idea of religion is based on this completely wrong assumption that the main thing it teaches is to hate people of other religion. You and the fundamentalists you resemble in your ideas about religion may think that way. Will you please at least give me the respect of accepting that I don’t and neither do the people of my religion that I mix with and the people of other religions that I mix with?

    When we have managed to shake this prejudiced and pejorative ideas about how the mainstream religions are out of your heads, then maybe we can get down to some decent useful discussion on these issues. Until then, we cannot.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '10 - 1:55pm

    Sesenco

    My understanding of Matthew’s position is that state-funded “faith” schools are acceptable, (1) because there is a significant demand for them, and (2) they either do not indoctrinate their students with religion, or if they do, they are so bad at it there is nothing about them that need be of concern to secularists. If (2) is true, then why is organised religion so keen that these schools continue to exist?

    Maybe because they actually want religion to be taught in this way, where the kids are told what their traditions are but not in a way which unfairly denies them a choice on whether to continue with then in adulthood?

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Mar '10 - 2:07pm

    iainm

    All I’ve ever seen of your opinions on this subject is instant hysterical defensiveness and name-calling against anyone who disagrees with you.

    I’ve made my position clear – I don’t see in general the religious ethos schools we have as having the effect that the people I am arguing with claim they do. I have also made clear I see this as a spectrum issue – the extent to which parents should or shouldn’t try to influence their childrens’ culture is an interesting one, but either extreme, I would say, is wrong.

    My own feeling is that the arrangements we have for religious education in Voluntary Aided schools in England actually works well, and illiberal fundamentalist religion seems to happen when religion is passed on in other ways than this. For me this is enough to support the arrangement we have for purely pragmatic reasons.

    Central to my concern is that I am very uncomfortable, as a liberal, with the idea of the state enforcing an ideology that must be taught in schools. I would rather a variety of positions be taught than this. I do regard the sort of “neutral” teaching that is being advocated as itself an ideology. History has shown us that what some in power regard as “neutral” certainly isn’t what others regard as neutral. In the communist era, for example, it was believed that Marxism was so obviously scientific truth, that compulsory teaching of it in schools was neutrality.

  • Matthew Huntbach wrote:

    “show me where it is that Catholic schools teach that those of other religions don’t go to heaven.”

    Auberon Waugh was taught that Protestants go to hell. He discussed it in his columns in “Private Eye” and the “Spectator” (that would ahve been at Downside Abbey and whichever prep school he attended). Was it not the case that the Church used to tell the IRA that it was not wrong to kill Protestants because they were going to go to hell anyway? Are you trying to tell us that Catholics no longer believe such things, to the extent that they are no longer recognisably Catholics?

  • Paul Pettinger 15th Mar '10 - 3:10pm

    Matthew, voluntary-aided faith schools determine their own religious education syllabus and decide upon the content of the daily collective worship they provide, so the links you have supplied us to CES website do not necessarily reflect what gets taught in Catholic Schools.

  • Terry Gilbert 16th Mar '10 - 12:30am

    I agree with MattGB here. Forcing people to accept state funded schools run by a dwindling religious minority is NOT liberal, Mr Laws.

  • I am not sure you meant this:

    Central to my concern is that I am very uncomfortable, as a liberal, with the idea of the state enforcing an ideology that must be taught in schools. I would rather a variety of positions be taught than this

    A faith school is by definition a school run along “ideological” lines. It is supported by the state, but worse, is directed by undemocratic religious bodies. This is the very definition of enforced ideology. Once again – I am not saying that teachers cannot by religious or show their religiosity (unlike faith school where not only do you have to be religious, but the right one). Why should their by a pluraity only between schools, not in them? Why should any one child have contact with one ideology (I’ll use the word to mean religion as well, for full breadth), indeed segreagated into the ideology of their parents (when there is any choice anyway). But it is not OK for there to be a plurality of views exposed to a child within a school?

    It seems the only pluralistic option would be to have muslim, protestant, catholic, atheist, agnostic teachers all in one school, rather than this artificial separation, which is not pluralitic at all (from the point of view of the child)

  • Dane-

    I don’t think confusing the matter of whether God exists into education policy helps. Although I agree with you, surely you can see that the case should be decided on matters other than what inherently divides religious from non-religious, and instead on the merits of liberalism, plurality and secularism?

  • I was hoping that the Liberal Democrats would provide an alternative view to the main parties on this issue. Instead, there seems a marked lack of courage or principle. If you just pander to established interests like Labour and the Conservatives you’re unlikely to appeal to anyone who might vote for you.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Mar '10 - 1:34pm

    Sesenco

    “show me where it is that Catholic schools teach that those of other religions don’t go to heaven.”

    Auberon Waugh was taught that Protestants go to hell. He discussed it in his columns in “Private Eye” and the “Spectator” (that would have been at Downside Abbey and whichever prep school he attended).

    I was referring to the guidance on teaching of religion in Catholic schools which may be found in the documents of the Catholic Education Service, to which I gave a web reference. The question I was asking was that if this is what you claim is taught in Catholic schools as the norm today, show me that this is so. The people I am arguing with here are not only claiming that this is what is taught today, but that it is a central aspect of what these schools teach. If it was a central aspect of what these schools teach, then it would be very obvious in the material and guidance given by the Catholic Education Service. So, therefore, I am asking these people to show what they claim, and giving them where they should be able to find it if what they claim is true.

    Auberon Waugh was at school in the 1940s and 1950s, so it may not be the case that what was taught then is taught now. There have been some rather big changes in attitudes which came through the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

    Now look, I am not going to go trawling through Vatican documentation to show what was taught, what is taught now, when things changed and all that. Rather I think this illustrates just the point I have been making. Your assumptions on the Catholic Church have started off from a presumption of malice and also of ignorance. You are unaware of the big changes that have taken place in the past 50 years or so. Your assumption of what the RC Church is like starts off supposing the norm is an extreme aspect of what some taught many years ago.

    Yet when I intervene just to make a very simple point, along the lines that some of what those opposed to “faith” schools are saying is, from my knowledge, based on prejudice because it assumes an attitude which no longer exists, or at least exists only on an extreme fringe, what I say is not accepted. Instead, I have to waste hours and hours of my time arguing about it. At every step of the way, everything I write is interpreted in the most malicious way that can be found to interpret it. More prejudiced assumptions are thrown at me, and I have to counter them too.

    Do you wonder why then, I pondered for long as on whether to intervene in this debate? Because I knew it would come to this – it always does. I am not even really wanting to defend everything the RC Church says and does, just to correct some prejudiced misassumptions which your comments and those of others reveal. Is there any other topic or group where it would be acceptable for Liberal Democrats to show such utter prejudice and such utter ignorance of the current position?

    Instead of what I say just being accepted, as it would be if it were on any other topic where I have some knowledge, I am treated as if I am a liar or some extreme malicious person, and so I have to carefully defend everything I say, and am pushed into the position where what was meant to be a quick comment becomes a week of work. And in doing all this, just for the sake of truth and the sake of balance, I know that my liberal soul will be considered damned by the orthodox here, because form now on I am labelled as “that guy that just bangs on and on about the Catholic Church”. And the orthodox here know from the bottom of their hearts and know so much that they cannot be corrected and will not bother to look to see what really is the case, though it is in easily available documentation, what is actually the real position.

    Is it surprising therefore that if there are others who may also think that those who post the usual “faith schools are all evil – abolish them” line are not always being fair or liberal, those people may decide for the sake of their own sanity and perhaps future career in this party, that it is better to remain silent? So does this prejudice and ignorance carry on without being corrected. And we call this a “liberal” party?

    Anyway, I made just a quick check, and came across

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P29.HTM#-12Q

    which is the from current summary of the orthodox position of the RC Church. Articles 818 and 818 cover this issue. I could have found other commentary, the Catechism is a fairly conservative document, but the wording here is intended to say that those who are not Catholics are NOT damned to hell.


    Was it not the case that the Church used to tell the IRA that it was not wrong to kill Protestants because they were going to go to hell anyway?

    “The Church” or a few Irish priests? If this was ever said, it is not in accordance with Catholic teaching even as it was pre-Vatican II. My own view is that articles 2268 (on murder), 2309 (on just war) and 1861 (on judgement of grave offences) of the Catechism pretty much say enough to suggest that if anyone is damned to hell it is the IRA and those who supported them.


    Are you trying to tell us that Catholics no longer believe such things, to the extent that they are no longer recognisably Catholics?

    I have given you the links, if you will not believe me, go and look it up for yourself.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Mar '10 - 1:45pm

    Paul Pettinger

    Matthew, voluntary-aided faith schools determine their own religious education syllabus and decide upon the content of the daily collective worship they provide, so the links you have supplied us to CES website do not necessarily reflect what gets taught in Catholic Schools.

    Yes, that is a fair point.

    The CES has something of a reputation for being a bit wishy-washy, and I know there are a few RC schools which choose to use different material, some of which is a little more conservative. Nevertheless, the CES does represent the norm. There are some valid debates about the extent to which we can tolerate faith schools which do not fit into this norm. My point all along has been that we can get a better argument on these issues if we start off with something which has a basis in reality, and which doesn’t make the sort of outlandish claims about the norm in current Voluntary Aided schools, such as that teaching all those of other religions are damned to hell is what can be expected to be a prominent feature of them.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Mar '10 - 2:02pm

    MatGB

    Matthew, re Jennie’s daughter’s schooling (my stepdaughter), we don’t live in a small village. We live in a mid-size twon of approx 20,000 people with four primary schools within a reasonable travel distance. There are also a number of schools in the neighbouring villages/smaller towns that are effectively suburbs of our town.

    All are faith schools with an indoctrinaire approach. All of them. The only real way we could send her to a secular school that doesn’t seek to indoctrinate her would be to travel to the next town along, which frankly we couldn’t afford even if it was practicable

    I don’t know the situation, I was guessing that some or most of the schools you mention are Church of England schools rather than Catholic schools.

    My own particular knowledge and experience is with the Catholic Voluntary Aided sector, which is why I have been writing from that perspective. I know a lot less about Church of England schools. My understanding is that the position with them is perhaps less acceptable. Whereas with Catholic schools they were provided to meet a specific wish of parents for such an education, with Church of England schools it is often more of a historical legacy. When the state education system was set up, there were existing schools run by the Church of England, and a deal was made that they would be incorporated in to the system but could retain some Church-led autonomy. The distribution of these schools was patchy, but in some places, particularly rural areas, there were many of them.

    My feeling is that Voluntary Aided schools with a religious ethos should only remain in existence where there is a genuine demand for them from people with their religious culture, and where there are reasonable alternatives for those who don’t share that culture. With CofE schools this was less recognised in the days – not so long ago – when it could still be assumed the default for most people in this country was that they would have some attachment to the Church of England.

    When you write

    What is absolutely essential is that those of us that want a secular option should be allowed one.

    I agree with you fully. I would certainly say that if a “faith school” cannot fill its places with children of those who want it for the reason it is a faith school, it should not be permitted to retain that status.

    When you note

    Current Govt policy is to encourage more faith schools, not less, even further reducing our choice and increasing segregation.

    I would like it to be noted – I have said it but it seems difficult to get this point across – I am not defending the government’s position on this issue. Perhaps you should see my clear opposition to it earlier in this discussion. I am very much opposed to schools with any sort of “ethos” where that ethos is imposed not because of a community demand for it but because some wealthy person is prepared to pay for it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Mar '10 - 2:06pm

    HarryD

    A faith school is by definition a school run along “ideological” lines. It is supported by the state, but worse, is directed by undemocratic religious bodies. This is the very definition of enforced ideology.

    You have missed my point. My opposition was to the monopoly of one ideology – that imposed by the state.

    I have already made my point about a scepticism on the idea that the state can know well enough what is true “neutrality” in order to be trusted to enforce it. I wold hope anyone who is a liberal would see this point, but apparently not.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Mar '10 - 2:11pm

    Dane Clouston

    Believers in such barmy and divisive ideas, including unscientific creationism, have every right to their beliefs, but they and their institutionalised religions …

    As I have already noted, “creationism” tends to be a position of the uninstitutionalised religions.

    People are fond or throwing out the line that the problem is “organised religion”. I think the problem is disorganised religion. But it’s impossible to get a rational argument on this sort of thing because, as shown here, even when I’ve stated my point, my opponents come running in starting again at square 1 paying no attention to what I wrote.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Mar '10 - 2:48pm

    Dane Clouston

    State subsidised faith schools institutionalise dishonesty by encouraging parents to pretend they believe in an imaginary god in order to get their children into local state schools.

    Why? Now MatGB has put the case that in his area there are no reasonable purely secular alternatives, but he was not saying he had to lie to get his stepchildren into any local school.

    What would happen if these parents did not lie? Would their children not get schooling? No. The state is obliged to provide them with schooling. If religious education is as bad as you and others say, then surely those schools with it will be the worst schools, so why should anyone lie to get their children into them? Surely it would only be the most useless and silly parents who would send their children to such schools, so why on earth should anyone else lie to get their children into them?

    People are saying they do not want state money to be spent on religious education. Well, if it is, since these schools do not get funded on any more generous basis than other schools, they must be giving a worse education because some of their funds are diverted to the religious stuff. However, if the schools did not exist, their pupils would still have to be educated, and since the schools do not cost more, exactly the same state money would be spent. As such, how can you say state money is spent on this when abolishing them would not result in any money being returned to the state? Net cost to the state is nil.

  • Matthew Huntbach said:

    Anyway, I made just a quick check, and came across
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P29.HTM#-12Q
    which is the from current summary of the orthodox position of the RC Church. Articles 818 and 818 cover this issue. I could have found other commentary, the Catechism is a fairly conservative document, but the wording here is intended to say that those who are not Catholics are NOT damned to hell.

    I love it when people quote Catechisms because then anyone that actually goes to read them can see at once how self-centred, discriminatory and thoroughly non-inclusive the RC church is.

    What those two paragraphs say is that those who are not of the RC church but are baptised can be seen as brothers (818).

    And that other “Churches and ecclesial communities” (819) are also acceptable. Depending on how you interpret that it might mean only other Christian churches, or also include other religions than Christianity. “Ecclesial” certainly means atheists and non-believers are still going to hell. So your schools teach that then?

    The danger of faith schools, as you continually fail to appreciate Matthew, is not what any individual school teaches, but the principle of it, the “covering fire” the “good” faith schools (i.e. the ones you mention, some of which might actually be almost secular in all but name) give the evil ones which are basically indoctrination centres teaching community division. You seem able to accept this for academies, but not for your treasured voluntary aided schools.

    You agree that faith schooling is dangerous, yet you believe that just regulating it seems to be the answer. Yet it will always be impossible to stop teachers (or entire schools) saying one thing to appease visiting inspectors and then “correct” that in the much longer period that they aren’t visiting, or in other lessons. At least in a multi/no-faith environment kids will get different views from all sides constantly instead of constant reinforcement of a single view. And you’d still have the regulators in a secular school, so you’d get both safety nets, instead of just one.

    While it was you that brought up the RC church, I apply this rationale to all beliefs, be they RC, CoE, muslim, or atheist, racist etc. Cohesive, inclusive schools will always be better than segregated schools.

  • Matthew,
    in your reply to MattGB, your position seems to come a lot closer to what I feel would be the practical solution. This statement of your views seems markedly different to your earlier comments; either because you’ve changed your views, or now expressed them more clearly/fully.

    Do you agree with the sentiment that the government has a duty to ensure every child has guaranteed access to a secular school place but, if sufficient local demand exists, the possibility of choosing a faith school? The corollary being that faith schools be forced to become secular (or stop getting money) if demand drops.

    That’s my real-politik solution. Ideally there should be no taxpayer funded faith schools at all, of course.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Mar '10 - 3:13pm

    Martin

    I love it when people quote Catechisms because then anyone that actually goes to read them can see at once how self-centred, discriminatory and thoroughly non-inclusive the RC church is.

    Yes, but I don’t want to be accused of “cherry picking”, so here we are, something from a document more conservative than the CES tends to be.


    “Ecclesial” certainly means atheists and non-believers are still going to hell. So your schools teach that then?

    No, they do not. But since you won’t believe me, what am I to do? I have already wasted far too much time on this.


    At least in a multi/no-faith environment kids will get different views from all sides

    Like we have had in this discussion? I.e. people who think they are neutral but most certainly not, saying what they think is neutral but is actually deeply prejudiced? But I have said all that. You think you are right, I don’t think I am right or wrong, but I do think I have a better idea of what is balance and appreciation and respect of all sides than you and most other contributors to this discussion do.

    QED.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Mar '10 - 3:27pm

    Martin

    in your reply to MattGB, your position seems to come a lot closer to what I feel would be the practical solution. This statement of your views seems markedly different to your earlier comments; either because you’ve changed your views, or now expressed them more clearly/fully.

    No, I have not changed my views at all. If I have managed through persistence to get you and others to see the point I was trying to make all along that is good. I think it illustrates well the point I was making – there is so much prejudice on this issue that it is really hard to discuss it rationally, because of this readiness to jump to conclusions. You made certain assumptions at the start which caused you to suppose I held or was advocating certain positions. But I really am fed up that I cannot be taken at face value on this, I was treated as some sort of hate-object just because I dared to express an opinion different from orthodoxy on this issue. Everything I wrote was discounted, or assumed to have some sort of malicious intention, simply because I was not coming from that background of “faith schools are all evil – close them down and impose state uniformity” orthodoxy which seems to be the only acceptable opinion amongst many on this party now.

    So you lot, do you think you are going to convince people with the arrogant way you make assumptions and demonise those who disagree with you? No. You will drive those who could be allies in supporting a liberal interpretation of religion into despair and alliance with the fundamentalists and conservatives. This I am seeing in Catholic circles, and it scares me. You are not winning the argument, but maybe you don’t care.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Mar '10 - 6:33pm

    Martin

    The danger of faith schools, as you continually fail to appreciate Matthew, is not what any individual school teaches, but the principle of it, the “covering fire” the “good” faith schools (i.e. the ones you mention, some of which might actually be almost secular in all but name) give the evil ones which are basically indoctrination centres teaching community division. You seem able to accept this for academies, but not for your treasured voluntary aided schools.

    No, I appreciate this argument, but it’s not one we’re able to get to until we have dispensed with the position I have been arguing against – which is that ALL “faith schools” are like what you now call the “evil ones”.

    The point about Voluntary Aided schools is that they come under LEA oversight, which includes the LEA appointing a proportion of their governors. This is a much stronger community oversight than exists with “academies”.


    You agree that faith schooling is dangerous, yet you believe that just regulating it seems to be the answer. Yet it will always be impossible to stop teachers (or entire schools) saying one thing to appease visiting inspectors and then “correct” that in the much longer period that they aren’t visiting, or in other lessons.

    And everyone else seems to think the answer is having some sort of madrassa system where there is no such inspection at all.

  • Matthew:

    RE your point on neutrality

    “I want my children to go to a liberal school that only admits the children of other liberals like me.

    How dare the state force its ideology on my children by not providing me with such a school. Non-political people like to say that ensuring that schools have no political affiliation is somehow “neutral”, but of course it’s not, having no political affiliation is an explicit political position in its own right!”

    If that sounds ridiculous, then now you know how your argument sounds to everyone else.

  • Matthew – ok, but I recognise no such state enforced monolithic ideology. There is simply no such thing – I don’t want the state to tell teaqchers how to teach. But I do oppose the state enabling schools to choose pupils and staff on the basis of religion.

    On neutrality, whilst I agree that 100% nuetrality is impossible, saying that ‘we are CofE’ and this is what CofE teaches, that we only hire CofE and chose you because you were CofE is most definately not neutral.

    Furthermore, you said that “we” are exhibiting here prejudice, so how could we pretend to be neutral? But as I have said, when it comes to religion, I would teach, sympathetically, many religions. This goes on now in most (if not all, not sure) community schools, and perhaps all faith schools. But it cannot be the same if you presuppose one religion to be your foundation, as simply not declaring.

    Also, whilst I personally may be more skeptical about religion, my governmental policy, as it were, would not be; in that I find it perfectly all right for teachers who are Chrsitian or Muslim or in any way religious to be in any school. That is the real meaning of neutral that is important when it comes to faith schools. Whilst any given teacher might not be, and so any given community school (potentially), faith schools CANNOT be.

    Though I agree with your sentiment that too much has been said!

  • And to concur with Martin that your reply to MatGB is very sensible, though I would still disagree!

    Oranjepan, I too would like to see education pushed up right to the top. I feel that it is the issue where all liberals, right or left, should come to consensus – that a good first chance in life for all is the only ethical way for society to proceed

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Mar '10 - 10:00am

    iainm

    “I want my children to go to a liberal school that only admits the children of other liberals like me.

    How dare the state force its ideology on my children by not providing me with such a school. Non-political people like to say that ensuring that schools have no political affiliation is somehow “neutral”, but of course it’s not, having no political affiliation is an explicit political position in its own right!”

    If you lived in a country where authoritarianism was the norm, and considered so normal that people took it for granted and assumed it was the position most people would take so it was “normal”, that is precisely the position you might take. There are several countries in the world where homosexual practice can get you the death penalty, and many others where it is illegal and there is strong social disapproval of it. In those countries they may well think what we would regard as outrageously homophobic views on this issue to be “neutral”. Suppose you were a teacher in such a country and you were ordered to teach what its government minister said was a “neutral” position on this matter – perhaps that it was “dangerous” and a sign of “mental deficiency” and that the said government was a brave and forward-looking government on account of it not actually executing people for it?

    Who are you or I to judge what is really neutral? Sorry, but I don’t trust nanny state to know what is best for me on that matter. Nanny state may think she knows what is best for me and that what she is saying is a pure neutral position, I may disagree.

    One of the reasons the current system of schools with a religious ethos came about was that in the late 19th and early 20th century, a sort of low church Anglicanism was regarded as “neutral” religious education. That is why the nonconformist churches by and large did not set up their own schools, they were content with what the state gave them. It was the Catholic Church which objected and said the view of religion being taught was biased. The state, being more liberal on this issue than I see people here are now, agreed therefore to let the Catholic Church have its own schools as part of the state system. What I have written here is based on the observation that by and large this had worked. Being involved in this state system to some extent “domesticated” the Catholic Church. As I have already said, several times, we have not seen large bands of Catholic extremists isolated from wider society. We have not see the development of a ghetto mentality in the Catholic community in England – which undoubtedly it had the potential for. State Catholic schools have tended to take a liberal approach to the religion which is why in Catholic circles there is some strong opposition to them from extreme conservatives.

    It is really so weird to read the description of what people here suppose Catholic schools are like, and what conservative opponents of them in the Catholic Church say they are like. Those conservative opponents just LOVE the idea of religious education being forced into a private ghetto, and there is an air of triumphalism in them now with this current issue – their line to the liberals is “look, you try and co-operate with the state, you and your wishy-washy state Catholic schools, and see where you get”. What people in this discussion we have been having are portraying as outrageous concession to the “religious lobby” is, in conservative Catholic circles, being condemned as an outrageous concession to the anti-religious lobby by the liberal Catholic establishment.

    Having seen the misassumptions of most posters here about these issues, such as the sincere belief that the main thing Catholic schools teach in RE classes is that everyone else is going to hell, sorry, no I just don’t trust those same people when they say they can dictate what is a “neutral” position on religious education. That is why my preferred option is a diversity of schools which don’t pretend to be neutral, but do have the oversight of being part of the Local Authority system. I’ve seen it and it works. It works in the Netherlands too, where Catholicism is notoriously liberal. If what people are saying here about what “faith” schools must inevitably lead to, the Netherlands would be torn apart by conflicts between Catholics and Protestants.

    I can appreciate there are some difficult balances here. I am not fixed in my own mind as to where the best balance is between parents wanting to bring up children to have a particular knowledge and interest of their own culture and the freedom of children to make a rational choice. That is why I noted in the “snatched away” phrase that one end of the spectrum of view on this is obviously outrageous. I do see the difficulty in how we can achieve the balance of having the sort of religious-oriented but liberal schools with which I am familiar and somehow deny the right for religious-oriented schools for those with a less liberal approach to religion. So, yes, I am aware of all the issues I have been accused of ignoring. But I still see almost no awareness from anyone else of the real issues I have been raising here. Even though underneath they seem to me to be fundamentally liberal ones.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Mar '10 - 10:21am

    Martin
    (back to the discussion on the document I referenced,
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P29.HTM#-12Q)

    And that other “Churches and ecclesial communities” (819) are also acceptable. Depending on how you interpret that it might mean only other Christian churches, or also include other religions than Christianity. “Ecclesial” certainly means atheists and non-believers are still going to hell.

    Article 847 deals with this and does not say that.

    A lot of the Catechism is fudge – an attempt to paper over the difference between current liberal interpretations and what was said in the past. So it’s not actually going to say “what we said in the past as wrong”. You have to understand the politics in all this. My point is that if a document like this does not say “Non-Catholics will all go to hell”, and I have pointed out where it would say it if it did, you can be pretty sure that is not the current position even of those of a fairly conservative disposition.

    So, to argue my side, I have given just about the most authoritative source that can be given. To argue the other side, someone has given what they though some author said about some atypical school several decades ago.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Mar '10 - 10:46am

    Dane Clouston

    There is a middle class tradition of going along with Church of England religion for reasons of nostalgia, love of church architecture and of the church being the centre of parish/village life. These best local schools are often Church of England Schools for historical reasons. There is competition to get children into them, and nowadays some church attendance and going along with the religious nonsense is helpful to success in doing so. Certainly this is happening with a family I know well. The parents have had to dissemble. Volunteering to help with the church flowers is helpful. It is basically a middle class stitch up, based on implying or pretending a religious belief one does not have.

    So, there is some social good in these rituals? Maybe this is really what the religion is all about, having a little club where we do flower arranging and the like, and not, as has been claimed, where we damn everyone else to hell.

    It would appear to me to be somewhat hypocritical of people to say they want a bit of what has been achieved by a community and its rituals without contributing to it. If you say it is all nonsense, than have the courage of your convictions and don’t get involved with it. You appear to be taking a position of jealousy, you hate it because it works to bring people together and people brought together achieve things.

    If it works so well, but you hate the God aspect of it why is it that secularists cannot achieve the same in some other way? Why can’t you devise some little clubs which bring people together and achieve things? Why moan about what others have achieved rather than try and achieve something yourself?

  • Matthew

    “If you lived in a country where authoritarianism was the norm, and considered so normal that people took it for granted and assumed it was the position most people would take so it was “normal”, that is precisely the position you might take. There are several countries in the world where homosexual practice can get you the death penalty, and many others where it is illegal and there is strong social disapproval of it. In those countries they may well think what we would regard as outrageously homophobic views on this issue to be “neutral”. Suppose you were a teacher in such a country and you were ordered to teach what its government minister said was a “neutral” position on this matter – perhaps that it was “dangerous” and a sign of “mental deficiency” and that the said government was a brave and forward-looking government on account of it not actually executing people for it? ”

    The state exists and it necessarily – in so much as any given law either exists or it doesn’t – has to take a moral or ideological position on many issues, and that position will be more agreeable or less agreeable to different sections of the population at any given time. I don’t see anything that makes education a special case when compared to, say, employment legislation, so unless you are agitating for anarchism I don’t really see where this argument takes you.

    Would you be comfortable with the idea of a whites-only school, or are you happy to allow the “nanny state” to judge what is neutral on some issues, but not others?

    Does your employer have a religious ethos? Your local pub? Your community library? Your nearest public swimming pool? No, and yet you wouldn’t accuse any of these places of imposing an alternative secular ideology just because they don’t impose an explicitly religious one. It wouldn’t even occur to you to do so, they are simply… neutral.

    Not imposing X is not the same thing as imposing not X.

    Not saying that Y is correct is not the same as saying Y is wrong.

    I’ve got nothing to add to the rest of your post because, once again, you are arguing as if Catholic schools or Catholicism in general are being singled out for special treatment, while I and I suspect everyone else in the thread are arguing against sectarian schools in general, be they Catholic, CofE, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or whatever.

    Hell, I’d even argue against explicitly sectarian atheist schools if the state allowed such things to exist (which of course it doesn’t). See, I’m neutral me.

  • Terry Gilbert 17th Mar '10 - 3:04pm

    Thanks Iain. Your position (and some others above) chimes quite well with that of the British Humanist Association: http://www.humanism.org.uk/education/education-policy .
    Their aim is not to create humanist schools, but inclusive schools.
    Incidentally, they are currently having a membership drive….

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Mar '10 - 4:07pm

    Dane Clouston

    But you do trust an imaginary god and the Pope to know what is best for you. ‘Nanny state’ is democratic. Neither God, nor the Pope – so far as this country is concerned – is democratic. I would rather trust democracy than either.

    I don’t think I have mentioned my actual personal position at all. Anyhow, you mention “Sea of Faith”, so I maybe you are not without hope. I wouldn’t personally go as far as the Sea of Faith line, but I do find it a useful one for exploring religious issues in a way that rejects the “God out there” line without going therefore to the sort of sneering assumptions about people who enjoy and find value in religious practice which is so often demonstrated in discussions like this. I could argue against your simplistic assumptions by throwing some Aquinas or Newman at you, but really, I’ve wasted too much time on this already and I’m sure it would be a further waste to bother.

  • Matthew, have you seen the following feature in the “Guardian” today?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/mar/19/catholic-church-child-abuse

    What do you think of it?

    This lady was, until very recently, a rather dogged apologist for the RC Church.

  • It’s not up to him or some of the unreasonable posters as to what a religious institution believes to be ‘nonsense’.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Michael BG
    I am really pleased that Ed Davey is calling for the energy price cap to be frozen in October. I suggest this on Saturday - https://www.libdemvoice.org/lib-dems...
  • Mick Taylor
    It is beyond appalling that this government is sat twiddling its thumbs whilst millions of our fellow citizens slip into poverty and despair. Could it be that ...
  • James Fowler
    @Rif Winfield. I for one do note the assault on the least well off in society. However, they are mostly not pensioners. The poorest in our society are the worki...
  • Neil James Sandison
    good start to deal with crisis but we now need to also put pressure on to move away from gas and use alternatives like hydrogen and other organic wastes . The f...
  • Ian Sanderson (RM3)
    I'm old enough to remember how we got Tory Prime Ministers up to Alec Douglas Home. During a changeover during a Tory period of office, senior Tories (including...