Scotland Keeps Religious Role in School Boards

We have an update to some news we posted about last year — A “New Enlightenment” in Scotland? — and the news isn’t good. You may recall that the Edinburgh Secular Society, backed by the National Secular Society, the Humanist Society Scotland, and the Edinburgh University Humanist Society, had lodged a petition to repeal a law that requires every school board (or council) in Scotland to appoint three religious representatives.

Now we know what happened. At the website of The Christian Institute of Newcastle upon Tyne we read Scots Govt rejects bid to curb church role in education. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Churches will continue to have a voice on local authority education committees, after the Scottish Government rejected a secularist bid to end the practice. The move was welcomed as evidence that Government ministers recognise the valuable role churches have to play. The Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) had wanted changes to rules which require education committees to appoint representatives from religious organisations.

Not an unbiased report, but that’s okay. It’s the results that interest us, not the predictable opinion of The Christian Institute. We’re also told:

Under the 1973 Local Government Act three religious figures should be included – one from the Church of Scotland, one from the Roman Catholic Church and a third from any other religious organisation. The secularists’ idea had faced criticism from churches who say they offer a helpful service to schools.

Hey — they only want to offer a helpful service. Why would anyone object to that? Let’s read on:

In a letter the Government said: “Ministers support the involvement of religious representatives in the decision-making process by councils in relation to education and do not have any plans to change the existing provisions within the 1973 Act.”

What happened to the petition? They say:

In January, the ESS gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, having gathered 1,778 signatures in opposition to the current legislation.

That’s all they got? Phooey! It’s no wonder the government is ignoring them. Anyway, the article we’re quoting from has commentary from various churchmen, but it’s what you’d expect — they’re delighted. You can click over there to read it if you like.

The issue seems to be dead, at least for this year; but if we learn anything new, we’ll let you know.

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8 responses to “Scotland Keeps Religious Role in School Boards

  1. Make that five representatives (keeping one for the Church of Scotland, one for the Catholics) and all of a sudden we’ll start hearing from religious folk why this may not be so ‘helpful’ after all. Better yet, let’s make it seven and watch the ‘helpful’ sparks fly!

  2. You grieve too soon. The Scottish Govt opposes the change, but that doesn’t kill it dead. The Petitions Committee has allowed the petition to go forward to the next stage, and the Govt may yet change its mind.

  3. Or even have its mind changed for it, since it’s not the kind of issue where Govt could impose a choice on its MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament).

  4. Paul Braterman says: “the Govt may yet change its mind.”

    Governments always seem to do whatever is in their interest. I doubt that they’ll change anything until they have no alternative.

  5. “The move was welcomed as evidence that Government ministers recognise the valuable role churches have to play.”

    And prey (sic) tell, just what might that valuable role be? We’ve seen no evidence of it to date.

  6. Ceteris Paribus

    DavidK asks about ” the valuable role churches have to play”.

    In “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” (1889) , Mark Twain made mention that the Church would arrive and erect a great monastery on one side of a valley, and also a grand nunnery on the other side. “[A]nd they joined their loving labors together, and together they built a fair great foundling asylum midway of the valley between.”

    But that was a long time ago. I’m not certain that the churches still fill those valuable roles to this day.

  7. The Scottish government has its eye on the independence referendum later this year, and will do nothing at the moment to upset potential pressure groups. The churches here still have a substantial following, more so, unfortunately, than any secular grouping.

  8. Of the 1778 signatures on the ESS petition, our Curmudgeon derisively snorts

    That’s all they got? Phooey!

    Yes, on the face of it, a poor show, but I strongly suspect this is another instance of something that just doesn’t readily translate across the Atlantic. The low number of signatories most likely reflects that, for most folks, the status quo of Scottish education is very well regarded, and the provisions of the 1973 Act aren’t generally perceived as deleterious.

    It would need an essay beyond the bounds of a blog post comment to give some context. You have to first get your head around the notion that, although one can study the British Constitution, or become a legal expert in British Constitutional Law, or follow the decisions about interpretation of the British Constitution in the High Courts or in Parliament, the one thing you cannot do is actually sit down and read the British Constitution–it’s not a codified, written document.

    This concept alone, I know, makes some American heads explode in perplexity. It still weirds me out sometimes, if I’m honest, but I’ve lived here long enough to see some of the upside of this arrangement.

    The other somewhat baffling concept doesn’t even have a proper term, as far as I know, but is something to do with the simple weight of historical precedent. For example: the head of state is still the unelected hereditary monarch, but the monarch’s political power is severely limited and the role largely that of a figurehead (though the whole of the government is, in constitutional terms, conducted on behalf of the reigning monarch). The monarch is also the head of the Church of England, which is the established church of the realm–all of which is hideously archaic and sounds deeply obnoxious (particularly when you consider that Bishops of the CoE have seats in the upper chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords). Historically, the CoE has been heavily involved in provision of education (up until 1825, you had to at least notionally be a member of the CoE to attend Oxford or Cambridge–and in previous times all graduates of Cambridge had to be ordained as well–not sure if that was also the case at Oxford, it may have been).

    All of which is utter anathema to the enlightened US concept of separation of Church and State–but the bizarre paradox is that the UK is arguably a far more secular society than the US. But that’s an even bigger topic–and one even less suited to a short comment! Let’s just leave it at a “Go figure!”