Why is the government letting faith schools interfere in the personal lives of their staff?

29th January, 2013 9:19 am

Yes, Tony Blair was wrong. The bolstering of faith schools and the consequent upsetting of the delicate existing balance between them and society at large, I wrote in 2011, was always a rather suspect idea: not because religious people have not the right to educate their children as they like – they do, up to a point – but largely because of the dangerous precedents they set with regards to human rights in general, not least of children themselves.

At that time, Michael Gove’s allowance, that faith schools could insist on 100% of their teachers being of-the-faith, was already raising worrying questions about the interference of the state or, more troublingly still, a private-sector employer, in the rights of the individual to live their lives as they choose. But this, it now seems, was nothing compared to the knock-on effects that this appears to be triggering in such schools with regard to both discrimination, and wholesale interference in the lives of teachers.

Last week, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales published “guidance” which effectively allows Catholic schools to discipline, or dismiss, their workers for breach of Catholic teachings in their personal lives.

So, essentially, if you are a teacher in such a school living with someone to whom you are not married, remarried after a divorce or, heaven forbid, married in a registry office or a church of another denomination, your job could be on the line. And if you are in a long-term relationship with someone of the same sex, well, woe betide you.

But this is not an episode of Downton Abbey. It is here and now, in 2013. And it is also easy to have a knee-jerk liberal response of horror to these proposals, but probably more useful to try to explain logically why they are so wrong.

One: the state, or any other employer, has no right to tell its employees how they should live their personal lives in the comfort of their own home. End of. If this is not a basic principle of civilised human life, I don’t know what is.

Two: the ludicrous subjectivity by which the criteria are selected. Thus, if you are:

“maintaining a partnership of intimacy with another person, outside a form of marriage approved by the Church and which would, at least in the public forum, carry the presumption from their public behaviour of this being a non-chaste relationship”,

you are at risk. Who, we might reasonably demand, dammit, gets to decide what is and is not a “non-chaste relationship”; and what is one, anyway? Does kissing count? Petting? Or only full penetrative sex, with or without a condom? Presumably, the answer is that “the definition is whatever I say it is”. Such laxness of interpretation would not, rightly, be permitted, in a legal definition in any other area of employment or human rights law, but in these guidelines it is deemed perfectly acceptable.

Three: this is all, as far as any non-lawyer can reasonably guess, illegal. As the National Secular Society logically points out, this “harsh and unfair law drives a coach and horses through equality legislation”. This does not seem difficult to corroborate: among many other places, you can check this summary by the European Court of Human Rights here (Chapter 4 is a good place to start, as is p32 of the guidelines themselves).

Four: it sets an awful precedent for other religions, the more repressive corners of which may be even less enlightened than the current manifestation of the Catholic Church. In a country where Sharia law, with its clearly regressive tendencies towards women and gay men, already has a growing presence, this can hardly be seen as a good sign.

Five. You can argue that if you don’t want to adhere to these guidelines, don’t sign up for a Catholic school: but that’s not really tenable, is it? You might as well put signs on the wall saying “no queers here” or “single mums need not apply”, sorry. Imagine if there were guidelines which prevented churches from hiring black people: it’s just wrong.

And there are surely more. Also, it is easy to present these arguments as anti-religious: they are not at all, they are simply pro-employment and pro-human rights. In fact, a measured and sensible approach would be that the status quo is a perfectly adequate system which permits Catholic education for those parents who wish it, without compromising the inalienable rights of other British citizens.

Because what we are effectively doing is granting the head teachers of faith schools the power to say, “my organisation is religious, therefore the normal rules of equality do not apply here”. It’s nonsense.

When I was a teenager, I saw how this all plays out. My former science teacher was hounded out of my old school by ignorant people who thought that “homosexuality” and “paedophilia” were interchangeable nouns. We should never go back there. And the Catholic Church, paradoxically, is not to blame: it is merely doing what churches do. No, this is behaviour which the present government has encouraged through the free hand it has given to faith schools, and its sloppiness on human and employment rights.

Whatever its motive, it is a dangerous politics for Britain, a nation previously known for its religious tolerance and live-and-let-live attitude. It is abhorrent with regard to human and employment rights. And it is quite probably illegal.

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  • I think some missed the point , when blair introduced his faith agenda, he allowed state schools with religious head teachers to teach religion while publicly saying that faith schools were separate entities and that there was a clear distinction between the two and what they taught.

    But what really transpired was that the religious head teachers in state schools were told they could carry on indoctrination the children as long as it was a state sanctioned religion, this was taken up en-mass and the modern assembly became ‘group worship’ once more.

    I know it all sounds very innocuous but its actually a sensitive issue, i myself have come into conflict with a local state school as well as many other parents i know, simple due to the habituation and secret teaching of religion in our primary schools, ks2 is riddled with cultural perspective, yet the perspectives it gives are all from ideologies with deities.(even if it means employing those in cults, fundamentalists and others with hard core right wing views)….thats the faith agenda for you..

  • JoeDM

    Religion + Politics = Social Poison

  • ‘Tony Blair was wrong’

    I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner
    that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need
    no repentance…..

    • …about *faith schools*. Nice try.

      • There’s a Polish proverb that like old boots and old friends old words are the best…..

  • Redshift1

    I’m amazed. A good article from Rob Marchant

    • Careful now. You might just explode with the contradiction.

  • Nick Bibby

    I’m not sure that I agree that parents have the right to educate their children as they see fit. I am a socialist but I would want to to kids at a Socialist school for the same reason I wouldn’t want to see them at an all-white school. The same applies to religion. A seven year old is not capable of judging the claims that religion makes and the evidence that faith schools have a depressing tendency to teach the claims of faith as fact in the classroom has been all too well documented.

    It’s also worth noting that there is nothing new in this. Catholic schools in Scotland – funded by the state – have been getting away with this for decades. I wrote an article a few years ago about the experience of gay men and women and divorcees who found themselves teaching in Catholic schools and lived in fear of their jobs.

    Blair introduced this initiative – or, rather, expanded on what was already there – partly because of his own uncritical assumption that religion is a de facto social good, which it isn’t, and partly because they can be cheap, which is breathtakingly short-sighted.

    Associating any place of study with a particular creed is a contradiction in terms. Education needs to be an exercise in evaluating the claims made by various social actors, not in assuming that one of them is correct a priori.

  • Monkey_Bach

    In my view no school anywhere in Great Britain should be organised around the precepts of or to specifically promulgate any religious mythology be it Judaism, Islam, Christianity, or something more ancient (Hinduism) or modern (Bahaism). Eeek.

  • Daniel Speight

    A healthy dose of secularism in education would not go amiss.

  • Tom caluori

    As an ex teacher in catholic schools it is obvious to me that Rob Marchant’s comments are a fine example of crass, anti religious spin. I suggest he and others of the same mindset might read ‘faithful citizens’ by Austen Ivereigh, pub. Darton Longman and Todd. The catholic church is a partner with London Citizens, a grass roots movement for change. As for freedom, it is obvious that a growing number of professions are becoming closed to Christians because of their beliefs, and needlessly, due of this kind of talk. whose freedom are we really talking about here?

  • Religious freedom does not mean that the taxpayer is obligated to fund a religious education for your child. Faith schools are divisive and, whilst parents are free to send their children to an independent school, they should not be part of the government’s education policy.

    • Well, officially *all* schools (funded or not by the government) form part of education policy. I agree, however, that faith schools are divisive, as I wrote in my 2011 piece.

      • Alexwilliamz

        But not nearly as divisive as private schools. Now there is a real debate rather than this by proxy ‘atheist’ religion bashing!

  • ClearBell

    Religion schools as opposed to religion as a subject in schools = Political and social poison

  • johndowdle

    There is an advert on this page with the heading ‘Jump NHS queues with Private Medical Insurance’. Are you sure Blair is still not exercising an influence over Labour Party policy?
    Indeed, why are there any adverts on this web site?

  • uglyfatbloke

    An excellent article. Sectarian education – regardless of what McConnell and Curran have to say – is at the very root of the survival of sectarian attitudes in Scotland (that may not be the case in England for all I know) and should have been scrapped long ago.

    • Thanks. Scrapping is tough, though, and I think we are a long, long way from that. I’m merely asking for the present that they not be exempt from the law.

      • Daniel Speight

        And yet Rob it’s a bit like being a little bit pregnant isn’t it. The obvious problem you write about is caused by having faith schools. The only real way to stop the problem is by scrapping them altogether. Of course RC schools are not madrassas, but if you don’t want the latter it’s hard to allow the former. I say this having been educated, many years ago, in faith schools and not having that much against them looking back on that time. In fact I suspect it helped my rebellious nature to grow.

  • markfergusonuk

    There are adverts on this site because it costs money to run (which the advertising contributes to). However we run most of our ads through an agency so we have limited control over what is displayed – however I will look into these ads.

    • johndowdle

      Can I suggest you check out WordPress.com to see if they can provide you with a free web site? This idea of running ads on a Labour List is really old-fashioned “New” Labourism in nature. I thought the new Leader had decided to leave that behind in pursuit of One Nation Labour. Are you subtly undermining his efforts to create a new ethos for the Labour Party?

    • Though you could argue they may be wasting their money…

    • Always worth pointing out as those of us with adblock and/or read most posts on RSS don’t see the ads at all.

      But they will be autotargeted precisely based on how many references to the NHS, health, waiting lists etc there are on the site – and it can be argued that its a good thing as they are even more completely wasting their money advertising here than anywhere else.

  • markfergusonuk

    Tom – I take your point, but what Rob is arguing (that employers, especially schools, have no right to interfere in the lives of their staff) seems fairly sound.

    • Jeremy_Preece

      But if you are part of a movement, then you would expect that those holding public office adhere to the same values as those taught by that movement.

      • Not if it means breaking the law, no. If you are unable to provide services or offer employment – paid for not by your religion, but the state – without discriminating, then you have no place in the public sector

        • Hugh

          “The state” doesn’t pay for the employment; tax-payers do. And many of those tax-payers are religious parents.

          • I think the state should be secular. France have this one right

          • Hugh

            Others don’t, and they also pay taxes.

        • Jeremy_Preece

          You see, you really can’t have it both ways. If you want to say that a Catholic school, church or whatever is an institution which practices what it preaches, then it cannot be hypocritical and be staffed by those who operate it but behave differently in their lives.
          You therefore cannot then say that it must at the same time allow itself to be staffed by people who live lives opposed to those values on the grounds that it is wrong to discriminate.

          • I think that schools in the maintained sector should be secular. If schools which to be religionist then they should not receive state support at all, and should be able to operate only within the boundaries of the law. Religion in the private sphere only, essentially

  • Hm. Please can you tell me what professions are becoming closed to Christians?

    • MonkeyBot5000

      Imams, rabbis… err…

      Yeah, I got nothing.

    • Jeremy_Preece

      Many are going out of their way to make life for a Christian empolyee very uncomfortable.
      Atheism is one religious view amoungst many others, albeit a negative view. It should not be the only one that is acceptable in the ordinary world.

      • Oh, come on. Since when is atheism the “only one that is acceptable”? Atheists form a rather small proportion of the population, and people identifying themselves as religious in the majority. So this is just wildly incorrect.

      • You mean you’re not allowed to discriminate against those you don’t approve of any more? Good. Once you realise your doctrines are unacceptable then we may be getting somewhere

        • Jeremy_Preece

          That argument would be more convincing if you actually believed that you were not allowed to discriminate against me.
          We disagree, and I am fine with that, but then maybe I am more tolerant of diversity than you. Now there’s a thought.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            You won’t find Mike being practically tolerant of anything that does not fit his Stalinist view. “Tolerance” is a theoretical construct to him, being over-ridden by doctrine and orthodoxy to his failed political philosophy in the real world. Oddly, he used to be highly religious. All he has done is swapped one fairy tale he no longer believes in for another that he does now believe in, and invested all of his internal anger into hatred of something he once held close.

      • MonkeyBot5000

        Atheism is one religious view amoungst many others, albeit a negative view.

        *facepalm* Let’s try this one more time for the hard of thinking…

        Atheism is the absence of theism in the same way that asymmetry is the absence of symmetry. If atheism is a “religious view”, then “off” is a TV channel.

        • Jeremy_Preece

          Athiesm is one view and matter of belief, that of there being no God. Other beliefs include panthiesm – the idea that God or a life force is the whole totaly of being of which everything is a part, and polythiesm which is a belief in many dieties. These are the main ones, there are many others such as ancestor spirits and so on.

          Yes they are all religious positions in terms of the fact that they are all views which people believe. None of these, including atheism, is in the realm of scientific proof. Science, on its own terms cannot either prove or disprove.

          • MonkeyBot5000

            Athiesm is one view and matter of belief…

            It’s a matter of lack of belief, that’s not the same.

            People like you would love to redefine it so you can make a false equivalence with whichever religion you feel is persecuted by the nasty atheists, but it just isn’t so.

          • Hugh

            No, agnostics lack belief. Atheists believe there’s no God, all deistic religions are false, and there’s no afterlife etc.. Since it’s impossible to actually know surely it is a belief.

          • MonkeyBot5000

            The two are not mutually exclusive.

            I’m an atheist because I don’t believe in god and I’m also agnostic as I don’t think it’s possible to measure what exists beyond our universe.

          • Hugh

            I’d say under their normal definitions atheism and agnosticism are mutually exclusive. In either case, though, I think if you believe there’s no God, it’s as much a belief as believing there is.

          • MonkeyBot5000

            Normal definitions? Look them up, atheism will be defined both ways and if you need to distinguish between them, they’re often described as strong and weak atheism.

            I didn’t say I believe there’s no god, I said I don’t believe in a god. If you can’t understand the difference between those two positions, there’s not much point continuing.

          • Hugh

            So strong atheism would be a belief then?

          • MonkeyBot5000

            I handed you that freebie on a plate as an act of good faith. I had a feeling that you’d abuse it.

            Do you understand the difference between what I said and what you thought I said?

          • Hugh

            I’m not abusing it; I’m trying to clarify and understand your argument. If you describe those terming atheism a belief as “hard of understanding” it will tend to surprise if you say it can actually constitute a belief.

            I do now understand the difference between discounting the possibility of a god and leaving open the possibility of there being a god, but doubting it and as yet being unpersuaded by any of the claims to his existence. I had missed that distinction, and, yes, it is different to plain agnosticism.

            However, I think for there to be a qualitative difference between that kind of atheism and faith (given that even Dawkins does not claim 100% certainty – nor a great many if not most believers), then it frankly needs to include a significant element of doubt – otherwise I’m not sure I see what practical difference it makes.

            “Off” is not a TV channel, but in ordinary human experience there is no negative of belief. Unless you are dead or unconscious you are always in a state of believing something, just as you are always in a state of thinking something. The only alternative to belief is doubt.

          • MonkeyBot5000

            I’m not abusing it; I’m trying to clarify and understand your argument.

            Fair enough. I thought you going for “Aha, gotcha!”.

            The word atheism means a lack of theism. However, as someone who doesn’t believe in god and someone who believes there is no god both fall under that definition, the terms weak and strong atheism evolved to distinguish between the two positions.

            That doesn’t mean that atheism itself automatically “constitutes a belief”. I think the problem is that we tend to start from labels (as they’re often useful shorthand) and then infer a person’s position rather than starting from their position and then finding a label.

            … I’m not sure I see what practical difference it makes

            In most situations, it makes little difference as both groups will behave as if there is no god because, absent of evidence, there is no reason to behave as if there is a god. Even if you buy in to Pascal’s wager, the odds are against you because there are a wide variety of possible gods.

            “Off” is not a TV channel, but in ordinary human experience there is no negative of belief.

            It’s not about a negative of belief, it’s about an absence. If you had never heard of the concept of god, you wouldn’t believe that there is no god, you would simply have no thoughts on it either way. We are all born atheists (in the “lack of” sense) and when we come in to contact with theism we are forced to become theists, weak a-theists (agnostic) or strong a-theists.

            In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the state’s position should be agnosticism – schools should not be telling students whether god exists or not. If parents want their children to be theists or strong atheists, that’s something for them to do at home. The state should restrict itself to imparting facts and peer-reviewed theories that are backed by evidence. Peer-reviewed theories can change over time as new evidence arises and that scientific process is what should be taught in science classes.

            The only alternative to belief is doubt.

            I don’t see them as alternatives. Doubt (or scepticism) is the approach you take towards a claim and when there is enough evidence, you arrive at belief. That’s why my position (weak or strong atheism) depends on the definition of god that you’re using.

            If you claim* an interventionist god who is directly responding to our actions, I’d be a strong atheist as it relies on a god who experiences the passage of time in the same way that we do. A god who created space-time must exist outside it and therefore would not see time as a procession of events and intervention in response to our actions would make no sense.

            The idea of temptation-response-punishment relies on our “common sense” understanding of time as past-present-future, but all of the scientific evidence we have shows that time is not like that.

            But, and it’s a HUGE but, this is straddling the boundary between physics and philosophy and I wouldn’t want that position taught in a science class anymore than I would want creationism to be taught.

            *The burden of proof always rests with the positive claimant. Absent evidence, the rational position is non-belief and that applies to the existence of god as much as it does to the existence of unicorns and hobbits.

          • Hugh

            The practical difference I was looking for concerned the difference between belief and atheism (where taken to be something that doesn’t very closely resemble agnosticism).

            The reason is that you say, “If you had never heard of the concept of god, you wouldn’t believe that there is no god, you would simply have no thoughts on it either way.”

            However, first, since you have and will hear of god for the foreseeable future, then you are forced to take a position; and, second, your statement isn’t true, since the only alternative to there actually being a god is that people made him up. If that’s the case, they did so because belief provides answers to questions that humans appear incapable of having no thoughts on: why are we here, what is right and wrong. Atheism simply provides different answers to these questions; it doesn’t leave them unanswered.

            As for an interventionist god, we could I think be here forever. I’d only note that many Christians – C S Lewis being most notable amongst them in the last century, believed both in such a god and one that nevertheless stood outside time.

            I’d agree I wouldn’t want these issues taught in science class; they are not issues of science. I don’t know of any Catholic schools, for example, that would teach such issues in a science class. Nevertheless, I see no reason why schools should not hold prayers and hold the truth of their religions if parents wish them to. The state serves the people. You may wish the state to restrict itself to imparting only peer-reviewed theories; others do not. There’s good grounds for your arguments in science class as it would harm the quality of education; not so much, I’d argue, in other aspects of school life.

          • Monkey_Bach

            There is no God; belief doesn’t come into it. Eeek.

          • Alexwilliamz

            But how can i believe you believe that statement. Yikes.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    You can argue that if you don’t want to adhere to these guidelines,
    don’t sign up for a Catholic school: but that’s not really tenable, is

    I kind of want to agree with you, but if you’re not prepared to adhere to those guidelines, you shouldn’t be signing up for Catholicism full stop.

    If they are offering a “Catholic education” and claiming that these guidelines are the right rules to follow in your life, then why shouldn’t they be able to make sure that their staff are following those rules? It would be hypocritical for those staff to be teaching one thing at school and doing the opposite at home.

    p.s. Yes I am playing Devil’s advocate a bit here.

    • Jeremy_Preece

      Devil’s advocate? Quite the opposite MonkeyBot5000. You are actually spot on. That is exactly the issue.
      Freedom means choice. and that means that people may choose not to follow the mindless herd of currently popular raving athiest secularism that currently prevades these pages.
      There seems to be a growing band of Starlinists who feel that they have such absolute right on their side that they can tell parents that they only have a limited right as to how they can bring up their children. They also want to stamp out religious freedom and expect churches and their organisation to be subject to the rantings of the national secularist society.
      Even more surprisingly these same people like to then criticise the church for being authoritarian.

      • MonkeyBot5000

        I’m one of those “raving atheists” and it’s “Stalinist”, not “Starlinist”.

        You should be free to teach whatever nonsense you like as long as you don’t ask the taxpayer to fund it in any way. However, if you want my money, you’d better be teaching something peer reviewed and not something based on your favourite book.

        • Exactly! Let the religionists pay for their own schools – stop sponging off us. Have the courage of your convictions and see how many people would pay full whack for your schools

          • Hugh

            Excellent idea, but first give those parents a 6 grand tax break to compensate for the state funding not being used for their child.

          • MonkeyBot5000

            I don’t have kids so I’d get the tax break too, right?

            And how much do I get refunded for my non-existant children not needing healthcare and do I get even more if I decide to not have 2 or 3 kids instead of just not having 1?

          • Hugh

            “I don’t have kids so I’d get the tax break too, right?”

            Yes, that was sort of my point. Likewise tax breaks for all those who educate their kids privately: it’s pretty much the same principle as declaring that religious parents must pay for their own education because you don’t agree with it. We don’t get to choose how our tax is spent, except through the democratic process, and religious education would seem to exist because there’s sufficient support for it in the voting population.

      • I’m happy for religionists to behave as they wish – within their own private sphere. They cannot behave in a way which is illegal. personally, I think we would be far better off if they didn’t exist at all, but toleration within the private sphere is acceptable., I think they should have precisely no influence on public policy, any more than any other pressure group. They certainly should have no veto or ‘special status’

    • Well, because that’s allowing an employer to reach out of the workplace into your personal life. We allow the state (as government, not as employer) to do that in a limited way, in order to enforce basic rules (e.g. people don’t kill each other).

      But since when are employers allowed to dictate how employees live their lives outside the workplace? No, it’s not acceptable.

      • MonkeyBot5000

        If you were a Tory MP banging on about family values in the Mail, it would be entirely in the public interest to reveal that you were secretly shacked up with your gay lover.

        Someone providing a Catholic education – as opposed to just imparting factual information – is setting out moral guidelines and telling children the “right” way to live. How they behave in their private lifes directly affects their ability to be a moral guide.

        If that means people are put off working in religious schools, all the better – more teachers for the state schools to choose from. If it makes some religions look a bit silly and anachronistic and a few people reconsider whether they want to be associated with that religion, fantastic.

        Mind you, I’d also ban the anti-science/creationist brigade from buying mobiles or having internet access. In fact, no electricity at all.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    A seven year old is not capable of judging the claims that religion makes…

    That’s about the age I started resisting going to church.

    • Out of curiosity, was the school you attended saying that it was a good thing all day, every day?

  • Yes, agree with you about the “cheap”, or rather good value for money, as their results tend to be above average. And about the assumption that religion is a social good.

    But there are religious aspects which are benign (basic teaching of moral values, like don’t kill people) and those which are less so (gay people are bad). The trick is to leave the benign aspects while limiting those which aren’t. That’s a pragmatic approach to religion, which Britain has largely managed to have through the late twentieth century and now seems to be leaving.

    • I’m not so sure about the ‘good value for money’, hence the comment about short-sighted. Religions are, ultimately divisive – saved vs damned, elect vs fallen; and that’s before we get into anything as complicated as divisions between and within particular creeds. Indeed just a glance at ‘Britain in the late twentieth century’ shows this to be the case – education in the West or Scotland, the ongoing issues in Ulster which were buried but not addressed, innate homophobia and sexism within the established Church. In fact, where, exactly has this trick been performed? In the Church of England which has just rejected the idea that a woman can be a senior manager? In the Roman Catholic Church were the most senior prelate in the UK is leading the campaign against gay rights? I think a secular school can probably cope with teaching ‘don’t kill people’, so it becomes difficult to see what the addition of faith adds in return for the justification of prejudice or the relatively widespread teaching of nonsense.

    • Which is actually down to the church, Rob – its they who are demanding the special rights and opt-outs

      • That’s true, Mike. But the government is clearly encouraging them to do so, and it shouldn’t.

  • Jeremy_Preece

    Well said Tom.
    As Roman Catholics we thought long and hard about Catholic schools and in the end sent our children to Catholic primary schools followed by the local ordinary comprehensive school.
    Like many others I am in the Labour party because of social justice and that I got from Catholic social teaching. Our faith teaches about the supremecy of the human conscience as our guide. We are also taught about the dignity of humanity, and that there are inalienable rights of every person regardless of creed, colour or anything else.
    You are quite right about the church and its role in freedom, which is why it is usually the sworn enemy of just about every evil dictatorship that ever arises.
    You are also correct about the nature of “crass anti-religious spin”. I hear prejudice all day long. I live in a Tory area and hear nothing except the rantings of Tories about “people on benefit” as if they were sub-human. These rantings are ignorant. Sadly the anti-religious spin (found now in most political parties) is of equal ignorance.

    • AlanGiles

      Jeremy, I have hesitated in joining in this discussion as I know little about organised religion. I do have to say for once I agree with Rob Marchant on the whole.

      I don’t wan’t to have a go so to speak at Roman Catholocism, except to say that I don’t think you need to follow a religion to want social justice, and one of my problems with not just RC, but evangelism, Islam etc is that they tend to be very judgmental – as Mr Marchant mentions in his article, it is “wrong” to be homosexual, but people don’t chose their sexuality any more than they chose the colour of their hair or eyes. You say you live in a Tory area and you hear them ranting about “people on benefits”. With respect, you can be sure some of those Tories are Catholic themselves, and seeing people who have the misfortune to be ill or unemployed in a compassionate light, does not need religion. Sadly, you also hear some Labour supporters echoing the same views. To be selfish and have a lack of compassion is less to do with religion and more to do with people wanting to feel superior and judgemental.

      My problem with organised religion (as it is with politics) is that it does and can encourage the most terrible hypocrisy amongst some of it’s practitioners. This isn’t a cheap shot, but for example, going back to the example of sexuality: if it is “morally wrong” to be homosexual, it is urely equally morally wrong for adult priests to abuse altar boys – and then, with the connivance of the hugher-ups in that religion, either turning a blind eye to it, so that the perpetrators escape any form of punishment. Then there is adultery. A vicar can get up in the pulpit and denounce adultery on Sunday and then on Monday be conducting an affair with a married member of his congregation.

      I think if children are taught the difference from right and wrong, are encouraged to feel compassion for those less fortunate them themselves. In short, and to be accused of being corny, to genuinely care about others and not just about themselves, you don’t need faith schools. Teaching basic decency and giood manners should start in the home at an early age. Religious education is one very small part of the syllabus, and I think schools are better for being free of dogma, not because I want to deter religiously inclined people. If they have a particular interest in Biblical studies, or art, or engineering, whatever it might be I think they should be encouraged, perhaps by being given extra lessons (I always felt when I was at school that a whole afternoon given up to “games” each week was an afternoon wasted, and it would have served me much better to spend that time doing something I was better at/more interested in, in the metalworking workshop). I don’t feel I missed anything by going to an “ordinary” (non-religious) school, and what religion you were (if any) never entered into any of the banter. A much happier state of affairs, say, then that in Northern ireland where Protestant and Catholics were indoctrinated for many years to believe they were enemies.

      • Jeremy_Preece

        Hi Alan. Thank you for your reply which I think is well balanced,
        well argued, and I think – respectful. You will not be surprised to know that it is an argument that I am not going to fully agree with, nor actually is it one which I am going to diametrically oppose.

        You are right that in a (dare I say it) “broad church” organisation such as the Labour Party, there is a large overlap and coalition of different people who are motivated by social justice. That is their conclusions
        and they arrive at those conclusions from very different starting points.

        So yes, there will be some humanists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist and so on, who have a sense of social justice and which for some, has led them to the Labour party. That is actually the joy of diversity. The challenge is not to emasculate their religious
        views in order make a bland mixture that will never care enough to disagree about anything, but to work together in way where we accept each other’s differences and rights and don’t want to cause anyone to break their conscience.

        Every practicing member of any faith is doing so because they believe that their faith expresses the truth, at least more fully than the others. But there are always huge areas where we find ourselves in greement
        with those of other faiths and those of none.

        Faith can only come from free will; so all attempts to induce faith by coercion are anathema, worth nothing, and an affront to the

        The problem is that in practice all religious groups and those of no religion are flawed human beings and what they should be like in
        theory and how they actually use their freewill to behave are two different matters.
        In Christian history the role of members of the church in trying to
        abuse the faith to further their secular interests are now legendary. This ranges from governments and monarchies supressing one group in favour of another to the crusades. Whatever misguided good intentions began in the crusades were soon snuffed out in an orgy of murder, piracy and looting. The Christian faith is all about the on-going
        need for redemption and repentance for the errors that we all make.

        Fundamental to Catholic social teaching is that human beings
        are special in creation (created in the image of their maker) and more importantly, that every one of us is created with equal love and therefore is of equal importance before God. Now that is actually really important and means that it is a transgression of faith for someone who should know better, to abuse another human being and then assume that the other human being (because theyare of another faith etc.) is in anyway a lesser person.

        This also means that everyone is entitled to a fair share and that one small group are wrong if they more than their fair share while others do not have enough even to live on. Labour politics and social teaching certainly meets here.

        Within that teaching, I would for example be in grave danger
        if I thought that I was somehow on better terms with our maker because I am RC and you are not.

        From the Old Testament, through to the Gospels and church teaching, those who are of the faith and know the faith are always held far more
        accountable than those who are not. Those in office in the church have greater responsibility still. So Alan, your vicar example, who has an affair with a married woman from the congregation, carries huge responsibility and accountability for his actions.

        The monk, priest or nun, who abuses a child in their care bring even more condemnation on their heads.

        So what I am saying is that you are right to feel revulsion at hypocrisy, but that the teachings of the faith condemn hypocrisy more comprehensively that you can even imagine. Even as far back
        at Dante’s Inferno and “The Divine Comedy”, we see an image of bishops and even a pope in hell. This is because of their conduct during their lifetime, while holding such high office.

        Some of the worse aspects are undercover politicking and cover-up. Those who have sought to hide the abuse of children etc. are also
        going to face consequences. In the end the faith teaches that “the truth will make you free” and the truth fortunately usually comes out eventually.

        You are also correct about political views of my fellow RCs in Surrey. There are indeed many who don’t vote, or who would vote Tory. While there are many who have followed the teachings through to the Labour movement there are people like Ian Duncan Smith and (forget his name) the US Republican Vice Presidential candidate. And yes I
        am in profound disagreement with this ilk, and yes, I don’t understand how they can read the gospel and then take from the poor to give carve up for the well-off. The care of God for the poor man is a theme through the old and new testaments.

        So why would a Catholic vote Tory. First I think that there are many who got into an early 20th c mind-set of keeping their faith and their actions and politics separate and so failed to implement the compassion and fairness demanded by the gospel. Therefore they go out and make money and live the worldly life in the week and keep their religion for a Sunday and certainly fail to let their faith influence their behaviour, particularly in business.

        Second there are some who see politics as anti them, anti-Christian.
        There are many who see Labour as being the worst of all in terms of anti-Christian and anti-faith. In this case these people will turn away from Labour, but other faiths may be tempted towards more radical solutions which is what I think is behind the popularity of Respect amongst some of the Muslim population who feel under attack.

        Third, there are those of course who really do believe that
        any Labour policy involving the state is going to take away their freewill and so naturally spurn Labour. And yes these I am sure really have got the wrong end of the stick, and I am sure that they say the same about me.

        By the way I empathise with your feelings about school sport. As a result of my own experiences I have to say that I have managed not to play sport or set foot inside a gym since 4th year secondary school about 38 years ago!

    • The Catholic church has a solid record of supporting just about every reactionary movement going – including Pinochet, Franco, and Mussolini. Practicing Catholics all!

      • Jeremy_Preece

        Hello Mike. Always nice to hear your well thought out, unpredictable, and totally informed opinions as usual.
        For your information it was the Catholic Church which ultimately brought down Pinochet, and of whom he had the arrogance to delare that the Church had betrayed him as he as like Jesus and that the pope and the bishops had acted like Judas. The bishops lived in fear of their lives and many clergy and church groups were disappeared.
        I say that it was ultimately the Catholic Church since that ended up as the only alternative voice other than the regime.
        Members of the Conservatives beleived that there was no place in public life for religion (sound familiar?) and therefore the church had no place in politics. Therefore government members could attend mass (which was sacred and seprate from real life), and then go out and behave exactly as they wanted the rest of the time.
        Church groups or Bishops who did so much as to enquire into the whereabouts of those who had vanished or turned up dead were in the eyes of the government religious leaders betraying their calling by getting involved with politics. It was when the church demonstrated that Christian faith is supposed to affect every action that is carried out by the follower, in their everyday lives that progress was made.
        Finally Pinochet tried to appeal to John Paul II who was appaulled as he got wind of exactly what Pinochet was up to and then the church fightback moved up another few notches.
        After huge propaganda war between church and state, there was a suprise defeat for Pinochet in the presedential elections and that was the end of the line.
        I would also remind you that in Spain there was a massive civil war and churches were destroyed, in fact a huge number of clergy who did not support Franco paid the ultimate price and died. I need hardly also draw your attention to the number of Catholics including clergy, who were rounded up into concentration camps and most of whom perished.
        So I would have to challenge your version of history.

    • I’m afraid you are both playing the “this is anti-Catholic discrimination” card, which is a bit ridiculous. All I am asking is that Catholic schools abide by the same laws as the rest of us. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?

  • i_bid

    Criticising Blair on something AND talking sense. Wonders never seize!

  • The case in Liverpool suggests that the Catholic church can say this in documents but won’t be able to implement it. This is where a Catholic head entered into a civil partnership.
    Also, in reality, there simply aren’t enough practising Catholics trained as teachers to allow this to be put into practice
    My own view is that religion should exist only within the private sphere and that if the churches wish to run schools, they should be entirely responsible for their funding

  • markfergusonuk

    John – if you think a site like LabourList could be done completely for free then you’re welcome to try and set up your own, but you’re wrong I’m afraid.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    It was a CofE school so we had prayers in assembly and went down to the local church for things like Easter/Christmas.

  • Or, indeed, cease.


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