Monday, February 17, 2014

Removal of Church reps from education committees would be 'short-sighted secularism'

A proposed bill that would mean the removal of Church representatives from local authority education committees has been criticised by the Scottish Evangelical Alliance (SEA).

Highland MSP John Finnie has proposed a member's bill which seeks to take away voting rights from representatives of parents, teachers, young people and the Church who sit on these committees.

The SEA, which represents more than two million evangelical Christians in 3,500 churches across Scotland, has expressed concern that this will result in less community involvement in policymaking.

"There is nothing to gain from this proposal and an awful lot to lose," argues Alliance spokesperson Kieran Turner.

"It is nothing but a wolf in sheep's clothing and is part of a wider agenda by small secularist groups to marginalise religion in public life.

"This short-sighted secularism, if allowed, would reduce community involvement, which will not be good for society. What we need is more engagement, not less."

Secularists are concerned about "religious privilege" in Scotland, as the law currently requires three external religious nominees to be appointed to every local authority education committee.

"To afford a particular section of society a privileged position within the decision making process of local government, based solely on their particular and personal religious beliefs, is profoundly and inherently undemocratic, unfair and discriminatory," the Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) has said in a statement supporting Finnie's proposal.

"It strikes against those specific virtues of justice and integrity underpinning our society and which lie at the heart of the Scottish Parliament."

The SEA, however, contends that it is crucial to democracy that community involvement remains central to Scottish education.

"Communities must be at the heart of all that government does, and religious groups are often at the heart of our communities. Education is too important to be left to the party politicians and it is important that community voices are heard," said Turner.

"This is democracy in action.

"It is important that this secular agenda does not come at the expense of long-term community involvement."

The Alliance has affirmed the importance of maintaining and strengthening safeguards to ensure that all groups in Scotland are represented fairly, but claim that "we will not achieve anything by throwing the baby out with the bathwater".

"As an organisation we do not approach this from any position of privilege but rather we seek to look at the best outcomes for Scotland's children," Turner concluded.