Church reps to stay on Scottish education committees

(Photo: abcdz2000)

The Scottish Government has backed religious representation on local authority education committees, despite calls from secularists to remove them.

A petition was submitted to the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood by Mr Colin Emerson on behalf of the Edinburgh Secular Society.

It asked Parliament to rescind the current law that requires three external religious nominees to be appointed to every Scottish local education committee.

The petition, which received 1,700 signatures, declared that: "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. It strikes against those specific virtues of justice and integrity underpinning our society and which lie at the heart of the Scottish Parliament."

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

His proposal was criticised as "short-sighted secularism" by the Scottish Evangelical Alliance, which argued that such a bill would result in a weaker democratic system.

"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 Alliance spokesperson Kieran Turner.

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

A response from Parliament on the secularist petition made clear that there are no plans to change the status quo.

"Ministers support the involvement of religious representatives in the decision-making process by councils in relation to education," it reads.

Rev David Robertson, Free Church of Scotland minister in Dundee and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity welcomed the decision, saying: "We are delighted that the Scottish Government has refused to bow to the secularist agenda and continues to uphold the historic agreement between the churches and the state in Scottish schools.

"They clearly recognise the valuable part that the Churches have to play."

He concluded by noting the wider implications of the Church's role in education: "We hope to continue to have a major input into Scotland's education system - for the sake of Scotland's children."