Sunday, February 26, 2012

Faith schools could be at risk as secularism is back on the agenda

here's hoping!

yet: let's not get complacent, there's still a recession, a global one, so I for one _don't_ think this tide has turned

Faith schools could be at risk as secularism is back on the agenda

21 February 2012
It might seem as if religion is losing some of its relevance in modern society, but a wave of recent developments has thrown the spotlight firmly back on faith in the UK.

While on a high-profile visit to the Vatican, Baroness Warsi of the Conservative Party spoke of the “threat from a rising tide of militant secularisation” reminiscent of “totalitarian regimes” sweeping across the country. Her words might appear strange out of context, but after recent events it was little surprise to see politicians from both sides weighing in with their take on secularisation – a debate that many may have assumed had already been won.

The words emanating from the Papal residence followed an extraordinary development in the small Devon town of Bideford, which made headlines after a battle between councillors spilled into the courts. Former councillor Clive Bone, a staunch atheist, enlisted the help of the National Secular Society in order to prohibit the practice of saying prayers before council meetings, and in doing so opened the floodgates for religion to take centre stage in national discourse.

The judgment, which is set to be appealed by the council, was made as the debate surrounding the place of religion in the public sphere boiled over, with many taking the opportunity to scrutinise society for the last vestiges of faith.

Significant progress means the UK can now rightly call itself a modern secular democracy, but the jagged separation of Church and State has not removed every remnant of faith from public life. Heated debate often takes two opposing sides, one of which sees the persistence of religion in public life – and particularly the status afforded to Christianity – as increasingly anachronistic, whilst the other seeks to protect deep-seated traditions that are part of our shared history and culture.
Meanwhile, faith groups and politicians managed to join forces in the midst of the fracas in a bid to protect Religious Education in schools and promote its value to young people. While likely to remain a compulsory subject for the foreseeable future, MPs took up the cause after RE was slated to be overlooked as the new English Baccalaureate is drawn up.

Interested parties may soon find their attention turned from the classroom to the wider education system. Faith schools, which make up a significant proportion of primary and secondary education facilities in the UK, are one of the most obvious traces of a past in which religion informed many aspects of daily life, and are seen by critics as an outdated anomaly in today’s world.

Often boasting outstanding records and reputations, they can make an attractive proposition for any parent unwilling or unable to afford the fees that private schools demand, often leading to charges of oversubscription and parents willing to falsify a conviction in order to acquire a place for their offspring.

It is their segregated nature, however, that draws many detractors, with taxpayers left with no choice but to foot the bill for schools at which their children may be denied entry on the grounds of faith. Discriminating on the grounds of religion may seem a particularly antiquated notion in a modern secular society, especially as there is often little to distinguish the curriculum at a faith school with any other, but such schools have been part and parcel of the education system for a long time, and are now deeply entrenched in society.

We are perhaps reaching a tipping point at which secularisation campaigners will focus intently on the last remaining faith-based practices. Faith schools, despite their highly regarded work to instil knowledge and morals, could soon find themselves next in line for persecution.


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