Education

Hounding Tim Farron about gay sex deflects from LibDem vote to abolish faith schools

While the Christian leader of the Liberal Democrats was being harassed and hounded day after day by liberal metropolitan journalists to pronounce on whether he believed homosexual acts were sin (which belief would surely be a mortal sin against liberal metropolitan orthodoxy, and so the end of his political career), all journalistic scrutiny was deflected from the real illiberal Liberal Democrat intolerance of fervent (Christian) faith, which is that they have voted to abolish state faith schools, or ‘schools with a religious character’.

It isn’t couched in such stark terms, but that is most definitely what their new party policy amounts to. A motion in their Spring Conference waffled on so very liberally about how “Religious communities make a valuable contribution to the cultural life of the UK”; and how “religious organisations have played a major historic role in broadening access to education”; and how “There continues to be a place for state schools with a religious character”; and “Where different bodies are allowed to sponsor state schools, religious organisations should not be discriminated against in so doing.” It’s all so deliciously super-duper; so effusively tolerant. But look at the detail:

Where religious instruction, worship or other religious practice takes place in state-funded schools it should not be compulsory..

That is to say, the religious character of faith schools may not be inculcated; the school’s religious ethos may not be reified to the extent that dissenting students might consider it an imposition. This actually turns the current law on its head: since the 1944 Education (‘Butler’) Act, attendance has been compulsory unless parents withdraw their children (and since 2006, sixth-formers have been free to withdraw themselves). The LibDems seek to give all children of all ages the right to withdraw from religious instruction and the daily act of collective worship, which will effectively kill both off. What 12-year-old boy would want to sit and hear someone drone on (and on) about God’s boring rules when the alternative is more cricket and football (it can’t be Maths, or that would be seen as punitive, and so discriminatory, and so illegal).

Currently, the law requires that Religious Education “reflects the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian while taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain”, so Christianity may lawfully be given more time or greater focus than other religions or non-religious worldviews. But the LibDems demand absolute equality: they say RE must cover “all the major religious and non-religious viewpoints”. They haven’t defined ‘major’, which leaves the door open to groups of children campaigning for equality for Jedi (at the very least, what if there is a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon in the classroom? Why should they be discriminated against?).

The LibDems also want to separate Religious Education from Religious Instruction, thereby isolating an important means of values unculcation. Teachers may teach religious options and choices objectively, but they may not venture into notions of right and wrong, or good and evil, for that would be wrong and evil. It would also become increasingly unlikely, if not intellectually impossible, when:

Teaching and other staff of state-funded schools (other than those who are mainly or exclusively responsible for providing religious instruction) should not be employed, dismissed, promoted, demoted or otherwise discriminated against on the basis of their protected characteristics under the Equality Act.

If faith schools may not discriminate in the employment of staff on the basis of religion – except, that is, for the teacher of Religious Instruction, whose classes no-one attends anyway – in what sense may a faith ethos be reified? What manner of Catholic school is it when none of the staff (including the headteacher) is a practising Roman Catholic, bar the one who teaches Religious Instruction (which no-one attends) and takes the daily act of worship (which eight children attend, and only because their parents make them)? What teachers would agree voluntarily to lead (or even attend) the daily act of collective worship when there’s piles of marking to be done? If the headteacher and RE teacher at a Jewish school may be Muslims, and all the other staff may be of all faiths and none, what credible Jewish ethos may be inculcated into the hearts, minds and characters of its students?

But then we get the ultimate LibDem objective. They want “a new approach to faith schools” which:

Ensures that selection in admissions on the basis of religion or belief to state-funded schools is phased out over up to six years.

This is why humanists and secularists are cock-a-hoop about the proposal. If teachers (and headteachers) in faith schools may not be employed on the basis of faith; if RE must teach all faiths equally and objectively; if student attendance at RI is optional; if student and teacher attendance at the daily act of collective worship is optional; if school admissions may no longer be determined by faith, the school ceases to be confessional in any meaningful sense: its ‘religious character’ is nullified, and we are left with a bog standard ‘secular’ school.

But carry on hounding Tim Farron about whether or not gay sex is a sin. That’s far more entertaining.