Faith schools and Tesco employees

By LSS member Sadikur Rahman *

Last week the Roman Catholic Archbishop of England and Wales claimed that faith schools were wonderful places that encourage cohesion and that they were a precious right which should be funded by the state. See here.

It doesn’t bother me that a faith school may be a good or better performing school. I think that’s irrelevant.  The fact they discriminate is obvious and this should be regarded as a travesty, but what aggravates most secularists is the completely illogical and blatant ignorance of the fact that we are simply dividing children up on the basis of nothing more than a religious belief (of their parents).

As a secularist I fundamentally disagree with the idea that the state should be funding religious schools or even allowing such schools to be opened under the guise of “free schools” to indoctrinate our children in one religion or another.  I would object to the idea of any school being run on the basis of any religion, whether state funded or not. Legally it would be difficult not to allow other religions to set up their own schools and to receive state funding given that Church of England schools have always been funded. What should have happened is that all religious schools should have been outlawed.

It is astounding to me that anyone can make such a claim as the Archbishop has. The idea that children going to schools where the majority of children are of the same religious background are going to have an unbiased understanding of other religions is surely nonsensical.

In a lot of cases the parents who are willing to send their children to a faith school, especially the new ones with no track record of achievement, will themselves be more religious than others and hence the decision to send their children to such a school. The children will already be conditioned to think their religion is the most important thing in their lives. They will attend a school where their religion or its ideas will not be challenged but accepted as fact, when they are not; but at such a young age how are children to know that? They will be surrounded by teachers and peers who all generally believe the same things about their religion – that it is true, perfect, peaceful, that its founders are models of good behaviour etc – unquestioningly. There will be the automatic assumption that their religion is better than other religions and that it is better to be separate from others – otherwise why the need for separate schools. Many religions have equally unacceptable views on homosexuality, women’s position in society or the teaching of evolution; can religion ever be taught objectively in such a school?

The children will have little or no interaction with children from other backgrounds, and will be taught, perhaps not explicitly but impliedly, that mixing with members of other faiths or of no faith is not good and it is likely that negative aspects about other religions will be highlighted. How is it possible to have an unbiased understanding of other children under such circumstances? The children will leave school having no experience of interaction of growing up with other children of different backgrounds. They will miss out on that profound realisation, that at some point we all feel, that ultimately we are all the same – regardless of our backgrounds – and that we have the same desires about family, wealth, relationships, security and work.

Imagine if someone suggested that we should start opening schools based on race, say only Afro-Caribbeans can go to this school, or that this school is only for English people. We would be rightly outraged. So why does separating children on the basis of religion not cause the same outrage? Why is religion given this special position? I have to say I don’t understand it. How is separating children on the basis of their (or their parents’) religion not as outrageous and discriminatory as a school based on race?

The expansion of faith schools under the last government, which has been continued with a passion by this government, has led to the proliferation of schools for all religions and denominations. There are the usual Church of England, Catholic and Jewish schools. They have been joined by a plethora of Muslim schools of different denominations, Sikh schools, Hindu schools and recently a Greek Orthodox school. Where does it stop? Allowing one religious school has meant that anyone can lawfully set up a school based on anything that can manage to call itself a religion. I look forward to the opening of the first Jedi school (perhaps a “Jedi Academy”?)

The fallacies and contradictions inherent in the idea of faith schools are coming home to roost, amply demonstrated by the Derby Muslim school case. See here and here.

The school in Derby has now been closed, although this may only be for a short period of time, which suggests that many of the allegations warrant serious consideration. It is astonishing that the organisation responsible for the Derby school will be allowed to open three more schools despite its uniform policy. When are “feminists” and “liberals” going to stand up against this idea of female dress?

In the last week we have heard of one school in which both Muslim and non-Muslim teachers are forced to wear the headscarf and another school where the uniform policy is that children must wear the headscarf in and out of the school. This is also a school where the full face veil is allowed. This is an example of how the pervasiveness of one form of religious clothing, however moderate, makes it easier for the more extreme forms to become socially acceptable.

One can’t just blame the school or its founders. After all they are not necessarily doing anything illegal. Schools are allowed to set their own uniform policies but should we as a society really allow such schools, when children are at a vulnerable and impressionable age, to be setting a uniform policy that forces them to cover parts of their body such as their hair, their arms or their face for no other reason than because it is a religious practice? Should we allow schools which have such a warped idea of female sexuality? Perhaps it is time, as in France, for all religious clothing or symbols to be banned from schools? Otherwise we will forever be involved in a debate about one religious symbol or other.

Tesco employees and religious discrimination

Two Muslim Tesco employees have won their discrimination case against their employers. Tesco had changed times for access to a prayer room. According to this judgment employers will have to give special consideration to employees’ prayer requirements. This could easily lead to chaos and confusion in the workplace.

* Sadikur Rahman was an LSS member from May 2013 to Jul 2015

Views expressed are not necessarily those of the LSS.

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