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Scotland’s largest religious minority seeks to staunch the loss of public support–a half of Scots now declare no religion

The Church of Scotland has launched a campaign to try to staunch its widespread loss of public support. In the 2001 census 42 per cent of Scots said that they identified with the Church of Scotland and 65 per cent said that they were Christian. In 2011 only 32 per cent said they were adherents to the Church of Scotland and 54 per cent said that they were Christian.

If these trends have continued, as is likely, less than 30 per cent of Scots could now be said to be adherents of the Church of Scotland at the present time and half, at most, are Christian.

The 2014 British Election Survey indicates that only 45 per cent of Scots now declare that they are affiliated with Christian churches and 50 per cent declare no religion. On the basis of these figures only about one in four Scots could be said now to identify with the Church of Scotland

See the data at

ESS Press and Communications Officer Neil Barber comments on the Church of Scotland campaign on BBC Scotland Morning Call on 4 December 2014. The debate starts at 3.30 for the first hour with Neil prominent at 31 minutes at


ESS Treasurer and science writer Steuart Campbell offers his observations on myths about the birth of Jesus Christ and suggests that schools should drop nativity plays and broaden their outlook

Historians and biblical scholars have long known that the Birth Narrative in Matthew and Luke (it doesn’t appear in either Mark or John), was invented to give Jesus a provenance commensurate with his deification. To do so they borrowed from other contemporary religions, where stories like that of the nativity could be found.
    Consequently, considering the high proportion of people who now have no religion, it is high time that schools dropped nativity plays and broadened their outlook (Scotsman ‘Fears for nativity plays at schools substitute footballers for baby Jesus’, 2 December).
    I was surprised that the chair of The Humanist Society of Scotland thinks nativity plays still relevant and that they show where ‘a religion comes from’. They do not show that in this case and are grossly misleading.

Letter to the Scotsman 2 December 2014. Not published but available at 

ESS Press and Communications Officer, Neil Barber, writes on the many other meanings of Yule in the Scotsman at the following link

School nativity plays–a secularist perspective

There appear to be secularising aspects to special school winter festival performances these days. ESS Press and Communications Officer Neil Barber contributed to a BBC Scotland radio discussion of school nativity plays and other shows on Tuesday 2 December

Hear the discussion at

Why are women more religious than men?

This  question is one that will be explored among other issues relating to religion and gender by Dr Marta Trzbiatowska of the Department of Sociology, Aberdeen University, at the monthly meeting of ESS at the Royal Overseas League, 100 Princes St, Edinburgh, on Sunday 30 November at 2.00pm

Dr Trzbiatowska co-authored a book entitled ‘Why are women more religious than men?’ (Oxford University Press) with Professor Steve Bruce of the same department. The title of her talk is Women, religion and atheism.

Labour’s Jim Murphy–at least he is honest about appealing to religious voters

The best that can be said about the appeal by Scottish Labour leadership contender Jim Murphy to religious voters is that, at least he is honest and transparent.

Few other elected Scottish politicians openly profess their religious faith and their role in shoring up religious privileges in Scottish society. Most prefer not to make a public issue of the role of religion in politics for fear of upsetting influential religious minorities.

They remain silent and assent to religious divisions in schooling, religious voting nominees on education committees, enforced religious observance in schools, and additional Scottish Government financial subsidies to religious organisations which already benefit from taxation relief because of their charitable status.

Even the much vaunted democratic assembly that is the Scottish Parliament recoils from open public debate about these matters – suppressing attempts to have a public discussion of these and other religious privileges.

Christian humility is lacking when voting membership on Scottish education committees is available to religious nominees

Humility is meant to be a Christian virtue, but I see no trace of it when representatives from selected Scottish churches sit in seats legally reserved for them on council education committees (Churches win fight to rule on schools, News, November 16).

There, they enjoy the same voting rights as councillors but without any need to seek election, and hence without any accountability to the taxpayers who fund state education. This is arrogant, elitist behaviour, which laughs in the face of democracy and equality, and I am disappointed that John Finnie MSP has abandoned his attempt to press the issue at Holyrood.

If Rev Sally Foster-Fulton of the Church of Scotland is correct that church representatives add value to the committees, could she please explain what kind of value they add, what valuable abilities they possess that others don’t, and why they cannot use those abilities to get themselves fairly elected?

Christianity is often described as a great force for social good. If so, it should be able to earn its influence on merit instead of relying on legally enshrined privilege.

This fight is not over.

Robert Canning, letter in the Sunday Herald, 23 November 2014

Scottish Inter-faith week–the lack of Christian charity in Aberdeen


Earlier this year ESS revealed that the Scottish Government had granted over £376,000 this year to faith and inter-faith organisations.

Most faith organisations are charities and benefit from numerous tax subsidies, so why do they need additional public funding to engage in friendly relations with other religious denominations? Should that not be part of their raison d’etre? Why should the public pay for problems brought about by religious short-sightedness? Should denominations not rectify them by their own endeavours?

In the week when faith organisations are celebrating and attempting to bridge divides between denominations with Scottish Government funding, ESS can reveal that on 27 June 2012 Aberdeen City Council convened a meeting of local religious interests to determine who would be the third legally-required religious representative nominated by religious organisations to serve as a voting member on the Education Committee in addition to the nominees of the Church of Scotland and the Church of Rome. Present were representatives of the following denominations;

Aberdeen Hindu Association;  Aberdeen Mosque Islamic Centre;  Aberdeen Vineyard;
City Church;  Crown Terrace Baptist Church;  Deeper Life Bible Church; St Devenick’s Episcopal Church; St Mary’s Episcopal Church; The Mission Church.

On a vote, the representative of St Devenick’s Episcopal Church was elected by 7 votes to 2 over the Islamic representative. So much for Christian charity, inter-faith collaboration and support for diversity. 

All three religious nominee voting places on the Aberdeen Education Committee are thus controlled by Christians in a city where only 40 per cent of the population were recorded as Christian in the 2011 census

Scottish Parliament should determine whether to maintain Protestant and Presbyterian privileges in Scotland

Prince Edward, Lord High Commissioner, representing the monarch at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, together with the Moderator and procession

Legislation for increased powers for the Scottish Parliament should include provision to enable it to revoke the clause in the Act of Union of 1707 that requires a new monarch immediately at accession to ‘maintain and preserve the True Protestant Religion and the Presbyterian form of church government in Scotland’. Such a step would enable Scots to determine if they wish to eliminate this heritage of religious discrimination and remove the special constitutional standing of the Church of Scotland that now has the adherence of less than one in three of the population of Scotland.

This is proposed in an article in Democratic Audit by Professor Norman Bonney, Honorary President of Edinburgh Secular Society.

Prof. Bonney also proposes that the Church of England bishops in the House of Lords should lose the powers that they have to change laws on UK reserved matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In 2010 their votes were decisive in excusing religious organisations from some provisions of the Equality Act that apply to other bodies. ‘English bishops should vote only on English matters – if that is the wish of the English people’ he said.

The article in Democratic Audit can be accessed at

Minority religious groups exercise veto over Scots Parliament which fails to use the powers that it has had since 1999

Amidst all the discussion of additional new powers for the Scottish Parliament it is salutary to be reminded that while it may have certain powers it may choose not to exercise them.

The Scottish Parliament has had the power since 1999 to amend Scottish education laws which require the nomination by the Church of Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church and a third denomination of non-elected voting members on Scotland’s local authority education committees. The Parliament has taken no action on this outrageous affront to democratic principles. Religious interests could advise council committees but they should not have the right to contribute to making the final decisions on council policy on education..

A petition to the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee supported by 1700 signatories to abolish this right of nomination by religious denominations to council education committees was considered by the Committee but then disposed of, without further consideration, by the Education and Culture Committee of the Parliament.Now there are weekend reports that John Finnie MSP is not pursuing a motion that had the same effect.

The reluctance of the Scottish Parliament even to debate the matter and to attempt to dispose of it without full consideration does no credit to it. Secularists and others affronted by the undemocratic influence of religious interests in Scottish council education committees will have to continue to seek social justice by other means. The matter will not be abandoned as the issues involved go to the heart of how local democracy in Scotland should work. Religious privilege has to be confronted and overcome.

letter in the Edinburgh Evening News by ESS Honorary President Professor Norman Bonney, 18 November 2014

The religious rot in Scotland’s education system

The discussion of a petition in the Scottish Parliament on 11 November to encourage the Scottish Government to follow the example of the UK Government to ban the teaching of evolution denial in state school science classes is just the latest manifestation of profound problems posed by the penetration of religious organisations into Scottish schools. Other examples are;

  • the division of state schools between Roman Catholic and Protestant schools (which are disingenuously called ‘non-denominational) which encourages pupils to believe obscure religious differences between sects are of great significance thus reinforcing religious sectarianism in Scottish society which ostensibly the Scottish Government is concerned to diminish.
  • legal requirements for ‘religious observance’ in all Scottish state schools when the great majority of parents and children are now no longer religious in any meaningful sense
  • Guaranteed seats for three non-elected but voting religious nominees on every local authority education committee, including one from from the Church of Scotland and, except in the islands, one Roman Catholic – thus institutionalising sectarian divisions in education.
  • Access to schools by numerous external religious groups to propagate their doctrines and rituals – documented in the case of Edinburgh by ESS at

Is it not time to separate religion from the education system? Pupils should learn about different religions in religious, philosophical and moral education but religious observance and practice should be undertaken in out of school hours by parents and children if they wish to to engage in them with their respective denominations.

It is not time for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament to confront these fundamental problems with Scottish education?