Call for Scottish churches to surrender education committee seats


Edinburgh Secular Society is appealing to the Scottish churches to agree to its petition to the Scottish Parliament to rescind the law requiring that three external religious nominees are appointed to every Scottish local authority education committee.

The petition calls for the Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to bring in appropriate amending legislation. It will be heard as the first item of business by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee at 1030am on Tuesday 14 January in Committee Room 5. The petition has attracted over 1700 signatures


Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS), which has conducted a detailed study[i] of the religious membership of education committees, points out that the current arrangements contradict the basic principles of local democracy.

The lead petitioner, Colin Emerson, ESS Vice- Chair, states;“the Church of Scotland condemned the current system in its own words when in a 2013 General Assembly paper it stated that the church representatives ‘hold the balance of power in 19 of 32 local authority committees’”[ii].

Accompanying petitioner, ESS Honorary President, Professor Norman Bonney commented:“If religious denominations agree to surrender their statutory places on education committees, it would still be open to councils, under other laws, to appoint religious nominees to the committees just as they can other external members if they so wish. The present system, however, gives unique privileges to the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland to nominate their own members to education committees without them having to seek election and without the local authority or electors having any influence over these appointments’.


Under the current arrangements councils have to accept one nomination made by the Church of Scotland and another (on the 29 mainland councils) made by Scottish Roman Catholic Church bishops.

ESS press and media officer, Mr Neil Barber, said that; ‘current law[iii] which requires the appointment, in the great majority of cases, of one Roman Catholic and two Protestant nominees as education committee members, is official recognition of sectarianism that is in conflict with the Scottish Government’s aim of eliminating religious sectarianism in Scottish society’.

ESS Education Officer, Veronica Wikman observes that;‘State education exists to serve us all, religious or not. This antiquated expression of religious privilege has no place in a modern society. It is both embarrassing and shameful that it is still present in Scotland in 2014’.


Ii (Church of Scotland Church and Society Council Deliverance to CoS General Assembly  May 2013 p3/31 para 11.4.3)

[iii] See p11 of the above document (reference no 1)

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