“The rights of parents to educate their children in a religious manner”?
I recently emailed my MP, Tim Yeo, about the Governmentâ€™s plans to increase the number of faith schools. This was his reply:
Thank you for your e-mail of 11th September about the expansion of state sector faith schools.
I appreciate the concerns that you outline in your letter over the impact of faith schools on community cohesion. Clearly, there is a balance to be struck between the rights of parents to educate their children in a religious manner and the need to promote community cohesion.
Contrary to common belief, faith schools can achieve high levels of ethnic and social mix; the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, has made the point that in many areas, its schools achieve a higher level of diversity than secular schools.
Faith schools do extend choice for parents within the state education system, and choice and diversity in education can bring benefits for children of all backgrounds.
I do appreciate your strength of feeling about this issue and I am grateful to you for writing.
Iâ€™d disagree that parents have the right to educate their children â€œin a religious mannerâ€, as this infringes a childâ€™s right to develop his or her own beliefs and values. It is much harder to do this when youâ€™ve been indoctrinated with religious beliefs from an early age. Those who reject such beliefs can suffer discrimination and harassment. I was always an independent individual. I could articulate my thoughts and feelings about religion clearly, and often did. I was fortunate to have an RE teacher who tolerated my constant questions. Many donâ€™t have these advantages, and itâ€™s especially difficult for children of very religious families to openly reject religion.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says;
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
The bias shown towards religion in faith schools is a direct infringement of this basic human right.
Catholic schools seek to deny childrenâ€™s rights. The Catholic Education Service has claimed: â€œWhen you choose a religious school, Collective Worship and RE Lessons are â€˜part of the packageâ€™â€. Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society has said,
Some children have no alternative to go to religious schools because they are the only ones in their area â€“ particularly in rural locations. They may also have been admitted at the behest of their parents, whose religious views they may not share. Young people must be given the opportunity to exercise their own conscience, and not depend on their parents to make the decision for them.
Iâ€™ll be writing to Mr Yeo again.