Category Archives: Media

Colin Emerson & Norman Bonney present the ESS petition to The Scottish Parliament

Bill submitted to Scottish Parliament that would abolish religious representatives on education committees

Originally posted on Wed, 06 Nov 2013 10:39

Bill submitted to Scottish Parliament that would abolish religious representatives on education committees

An independent Member of the Scottish Parliament, John Finnie, has given his support to a campaign to remove the legal right of religious groups to vote on education matters on local council committees.

Mr Finnie has submitted a Private Member’s Bill that seeks to remove the mandatory involvement of religious representatives on these committees.

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[News release] John Finnie MSP Bill to remove religious representatives | Edinburgh Secular Society endorse Finnie’s Bill

News release |Embargoed until 14:00hrs, Tuesday, 5th November 2013

Contact details below

  • Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) endorses MSP J. Finnie’s proposed Bill to remove the legal obligation for unelected religious representatives to be appointed to all local authority education committees.
  • ESS states that the proposed Bill will enhance local accountability by removing a privilege that is inherently and profoundly undemocratic.
  • ESS calls on all mainstream religions, minority faith groups, secular groups, elected politicians, parents and individual citizens to actively support the democratic principles and aims of the proposed Bill.

ESS welcomes MSP J. Finnie’s proposed Bill in relation to religious representatives on local authority education committees. The current position, whereby religious representatives are appointed to all 32 local authority education committees, is untenable in a democratic society.

  • Every education committee in Scotland is statutorily obliged to appoint three religious representatives.
  • These individuals are not elected, but have full voting rights. They are merely nominated by their respective religious organisations.
  • 2011 census results show all those professing religious beliefs total just over one half of all Scots. There is no mandate for this privileged influence over our education system.
  • They are accountable only to their respective religious organisations and cannot be voted out by the public.
  • The legislation requires one Catholic, one Protestant and one other religious representative; this seems to reinforce the tolerance of a sectarian and secular division in Scottish society.

The proposed Bill complements ESS’s petition, currently lodged with the Scottish Parliament, calling for the repeal of section 124 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, as amended by Section 31 of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994.

During research for the petition, ESS discovered, that despite the Church of Scotland’s claim that they are impartial on Local Authority Education Committees, the Church and Society Council reported to the General Assembly that they:

‘…estimate that these three Church Representatives hold the

balance of power on 19 Local Authority Committees’ [1]

We believe that the proposed Bill offers an opportunity to create a fairer Scotland by enhancing local democracy and accountability. As such, ESS calls on all sections of society, including churches, minority faith groups, secular groups, elected politicians, parents and individual citizens to support the democratic aims of the Bill.

In particular, ESS urges the mainstream churches within Scotland to grasp this opportunity to support and help shape a future which places the democratic principles that underpin our society at the core of our local education system. ESS, working in partnership with MSP J Finnie’s office, is willing to collaborate with any group and discuss how best to progress and support the aims of the proposed Bill.

Quotes from ESS Board members:

“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.”

Professor Norman Bonney – Honorary President Edinburgh Secular Society

“The proposed Bill affords an opportunity for the mainstream churches and our elected politicians to reflect and act on the changing demographics within Scotland. They can show vision and leadership by actively supporting the Bill and the democratic principles that lie behind it. We sincerely hope they do so. “

Gary McLelland – Chair Edinburgh Secular Society

**** ENDS ****


  • For further information contact Gary McLelland – Chairman on 07813060713 or Colin Emerson – Vice-Chair on 07706837007.
  • ESS believes in freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
  • ESS is affiliated to the National Secular Society, although views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the NSS.

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

Open letter to Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Gary McLelland

Chair, Edinburgh Secular Society

November 5, 2013

The Right Rev Lorna Hood

Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Church of Scotland

121 George Street



Dear The Right Rev Lorna Hood:

I am writing in response to your comments in The Times (Saturday 2nd October, 2013).  I was concerned about your comments regarding secularism, in which you say – when asked if Scotland is a secular state; “a secular state would be one without religion”.

I am disturbed that in your role as Moderator of the General Assembly you appear unaware of the true meaning of secularism.  Secularism is a socio-political stance which calls for the separation of church and state: it simply advocates that in the public domain people should be treated equally whether they hold religious beliefs or not.  I would have expected that this is something that you and the Church of Scotland would support.

I am troubled that you see members of the Church of Scotland, and secularists as opposing forces. In my position as Chair of Edinburgh Secular Society, please be assured that this feeling is not mutual.  Indeed I know of members and clergy within your church, who are supportive of a number of our aims and objectives.

In the article you go on to mention the services provided by the Church of Scotland. I must point out that those services are also available for non-religious people by organizations such as the secular Humanist Society Scotland.  Indeed, the Humanist Society Scotland are Scotland’s third most popular provider of marriage services.

In The Times you went on to say: “I do think that the Church has to speak out on issues, because if the voice of the Church isn’t heard, the voice of the secularists will be heard”.

It’s not the intention or objective of secularism to silence the voice of any church. The voice of religious groups in Scotland should be available alongside the many other voices and viewpoints in our vibrant society.  Your comments in the article appear to suggest that it can only be one or the other.

I am very glad to be able to reassure you that neither secularism in general, nor Edinburgh Secular Society specifically, is hostile towards religion.  The focus of our campaigning is the situations where religion seeks a privileged position in Scottish society.  Such privilege conflicts with current ideas of equality and democracy.

We not only look forward to a continued dialogue with, but the support of, the Church of Scotland.


Gary M Signature

Gary McLelland

Chair of Edinburgh Secular Society

(pdf version available)

Response to Church of Scotland news release

For immediate release | Thursday 31st October 2013 | Contact details at bottom.

Response on behalf of Edinburgh Secular Society.  Edinburgh Secular Society is currently supporting a petition in Edinburgh to remove religious observance in the City’s schools.

ESS is affiliated to the National Secular Society, although views expressed are that of ESS alone.

Edinburgh Secular Society believe that education should not be used as a vehicle for evangelisation by religious lobby groups.  ESS works for the complete removal of religious observance, and does not support a recent petition to The Scottish Parliament to change the requirement for prayers to ‘opt-in’ from the current ‘opt-out’.

We believe that this is treating the symptoms and not the cause, and that the time (if there ever was one) for compulsory religious worship must end.

You can view out original response to the ‘Opt-in/Opt-out’ petition here:

In a report authored, among others, by Rev Ewan Aitken (Secretary, Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council) in 2005, it was admitted that:

“It seems that until a model of RO for non-denominational schools is developed that provides an understanding of non-religious ‘spiritual development’ as well as shared classroom practices to enact this model, an inevitable result is an RO of the ‘lowest common denominator’ that gravitates to moral exhortation and communal singing rather than spiritual development……”

The report went on to say:

“When one of the primary school pupils, when asked whether his RO teacher helped him understand what it is to be a spiritual person gave the honest answer: ‘I don’t know what spiritual means,’ there seems to be a challenge issued to educators that goes unmet by practices such as schools organising religious retreats for pupils, or having specialists come into the school to give sessions on prayer, mediation or contemplation.”[1]

Responding to the Church of Scotland’s latest remarks, Gary McLelland, Chair of Edinburgh Secular Society said:

“The vague and un-specified notion of spiritual development advanced by the Kirk is obviously a euphemism for religious belief.  The Church of Scotland should be embarrassed by its latest attempt to shoehorn compulsory religious belief into Scottish schools.The idea that religion is a prerequisite to inter-personal development is an insult to those Scots who wish to live a good life without reference to religion.”

McLelland continued: “It’s time to end, not amend, compulsory worship in Scottish schools.”


  • ESS can provide photos, speakers and comments.  Please contact Gary McLelland, Chair of the Society at 07813060713.
  • ESS is a leading secular campaign group, based in Edinburgh we cover issues across Scotland.
  • ESS is affiliated to NSS, although views expressed are that of ESS alone.

Scotland’s young people deserve better than this

Young people have a human right to sexual health and relationships education. Something which the religious minority in Scotland is taking away, argues Gary McLelland (originally published on on 29 October 2013).

Scotland, like many areas, is working to promote safe and healthy relationships, especially among its younger citizens.

As with many issues in Scottish education, religious sectarian divides exist to the detriment of youngsters.

The current guidance from the Scottish Government on sexual health and relationships education comes from a circular issued in 2001. This was produced just before the repeal of Section 28 (2A in Scotland), however as the guidance states, this was a key factor for consideration in the document.

The 2001 guidance states quite clearly that:

"Programmes of sex education should present facts in an objective, balanced and sensitive manner within a framework of sound values and an awareness of the law on sexual behaviour."

This was, at the time, a welcome progressive move from the Scottish Government, an acknowledgement that young people have a human right to appropriate factual education about sexual health and relationships, and given the political environment at the time, was clearly a sign of a move towards a progressive secular Scotland, where the reactionary cries of religious fanatics was being firmly put in its place.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has made LGBT equality a cornerstone of his political career, the slogan ‘It Gets Better’ is used to denote his party’s alliance with equality.

This image of progressive equality has taken a bit of a battering recently, with the discussions around the introduction of same-sex marriage. Religious groups have been the most vocal in Scotland against the introduction of marriage equality north of the border, with the meek and mild Church of Scotland being forced into embarrassing anti-social positions.

Despite the fact that many of Scotland’s religious citizens, including the majority of Roman Catholics, are in favour of marriage equality, and the Quaker Church in Scotland of the opinion that it would strengthen the institution of marriage, religious groups have not been shy in queuing up to claim ‘religious persecution’. Despite the Scottish Government’s clear plans to legislate for same-sex marriage, it has held a lengthy consultation period, seeking a range of views on either side.

It seems that despite their previous commitment to equality and a progressive secular society, the Scottish Government is keen not to offend any religious groups. So much so that they are intent to legislate a ‘conscience clause’ or backdoor opt-out for any person who considers their religious beliefs to overrule equality.

Not content with ensuring that any religious groups can discriminate against same-sex couples whilst they act on behalf of the State to solemnise marriages, the Scottish Government has now gone one further in effectively making sexual health, relationships and parenthood education optional.

In a draft revision of the 2001 Circular, the Scottish Government has inserted a very vague conscience clause:

"In issuing this guidance it is the Scottish Government’s expectation that if a teacher, child or young person is asked to do something against his or her conscience, he or she should be able to raise this with the school or local authority."

This clause is worryingly vague and has been written, by the Scottish Government’s own admission, as a response to the proposed legislation on same-sex marriage. This is clearly an attempt by the Government to stop the requirement (of 2001) that teachers teach the law.

Even more worryingly is that this opt-out now applies to pupils as well. Unless this clause is seriously revised, or removed, we may see a situation in Scotland where religious teachers are not expected to teach the law, and parents and pupils may remove themselves.

It seems, for the Scottish Government at least, the vocal views of the religious minority have trumped the reasoned and sensible majority, and that the education of young Scots comes a mere second to the hurt feelings of the Godly.

As Scotland moves towards one of the most important periods in 300 years, is the Scottish Government really content to treat its young citizens in such a childish way.

The consultation can be viewed here.

Edinburgh Secular Society challenges undemocratic religious representatives

Edinburgh Secular Society Vice-chair Colin Emerson has submitted a petition to The Scottish Parliament to ask it to instruct The Scottish Government to bring forward legislation to remove the legislation which places a requirement on the all 32 local authorities in Scotland to appoint three ‘religious representatives’ to their education committees.

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Edinburgh Secular Society comment on the 2011 census religion statistics

News release – For immediate release – 8th Oct 2013

Edinburgh Secular Society comment on the 2011 census religion statistics.

• “No religion” polls at 37 per cent…higher than The Church Of Scotland.

• Church of Scotland polls at 32 per cent…a 10 per cent fall since the 2001 census.

• Another 7.5 per cent of the total Scottish public turn their back on the Kirk since the last count.

• ESS questions the mandate of the Church of Scotland to have privileged access to our education system.

The religious statistics produced after Scotland’s 2011 census show, as many had expected, that religion is an ever decreasing choice for many Scots.  The 2011 census figures for Scotland reveal such plunging numbers declaring religious beliefs that it is predicted in a few years the total number of people declaring any religious belief will be a minority.  The most striking figure is that “no religion” has increased dramatically to 37 per cent. This is higher than The Church of Scotland at 32 per cent which is a reduction of well over 400,000 from its numbers in the 2001 census.

An ESS spokesperson said, “We respect individual adult religious choice but the Church of Scotland cannot presume to speak for anyone other than its followers. It continues to impose its minority beliefs in our non-denominational schools and together with other religions has unelected representatives on all Scottish education committees. Almost two million Scots now declare that they have no religion. So what does that mean for the age-old religious assumption of church involvement in our education system? Religious Observance is still compulsory and evangelising missionaries use this  to infiltrate the school system.”

ESS continued:

“The right to evangelise is an important religious freedom but it does not extend to recruiting from our schoolchildren.”

ESS calls on the Scottish Government to begin the process that will :

  • Repeal the legislation that requires Religious Observance is all Scottish schools
  • Repeal the legislation that imposes unelected religious representatives on all Local Authority Education Committees.


  • Speakers available for TV/Radio and other interviews.  For further information contact Gary McLelland – Chairman on 07813060713 or Neil Barber – Press and Communications Officer on 07986183977.
  • ESS is a leading secular campaign group in Scotland. We are based in Edinburgh and cover a range of national issues relating to Secularism.  ESS believes in freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
  • ESS is affiliated to the National Secular Society, although views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the NSS.

Leading constitutional academic criticizes the treatment of former Archbishop

News release – For immediate release – Sunday 6th October 2013

  • Leading constitutional academic criticises the treatment of former Archbishop.
  • Honorary President of Edinburgh Secular Society has issued a call for additional information about the safety and security of the former Cardinal, Keith O’Brien.
  • Edinburgh Secular Society speaks out against the treatment of the former Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

Professor Norman Bonney (pictured left – picture available here) is Honorary President of Edinburgh Secular Society, a position dating back to the mid-19th Century (see here).  Prof. Bonney is a social science researcher, specialising in UK constitutional matters (

Speaking on behalf of the Society, Prof. Bonney asked: “Is the man at liberty or is he being held under constraint? Does he know that he is entitled as UK citizen to live wherever he would choose in the UK and the EU.”

Prof. Bonney goes on: “As well as being excluded from the conclave of Cardinals that elected the current Pope he attempted to set up home in Dunbar (Scotland)  but was apparently coerced by the Church to go into seclusion and exile.

“This case bears all the hallmarks of the ‘kidnapped by a sect’ story that happens from time to time in relation to much less significant denominations. The public of Edinburgh and St Andrews that the cleric attempted to serve over a long period deserve assurance that the Cardinal is a free man who is fully advised of his options by independent lawyers and is not held unwillingly under constraint.”

Prof. Bonney continued:

“There are numerous disturbing aspects of the treatment of this individual that deserve investigation by journalists, and perhaps by the police. Probably he is entitled to an old age pension and as a homeless person the state and the local authority would have certain obligations to assist him to re-establish himself independently. There might even be a charitable congregation or organisation that might support him to live independently. Clearly, however, he will be under constraint. If he wishes to have a secure future with decent  living conditions he may feel constrained to accept the authority of the Church and continue in his current circumstances.

“But there are alternatives. He could write a candid biography, like the former Scottish Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, which might be a best seller and provide for a more comfortable and freer retirement. He could certainly perform a valuable public function by elaborating further on the idea that Roman Catholic priests might be allowed to marry that he floated in his farewell interview while still in office.”


  • Prof. Bonney is available for TV/Radio and other interviews.  For further information contact Gary McLelland – Chairman on 07813060713 or Neil Barber – Media Officer on 07986183977.
  • Prof. Bonney speaks on behalf of Edinburgh Secular Society.
  • ESS is a leading secular campaign group in Scotland, based in Edinburgh we cover a range of National issues relating to secularism.  ESS believes in freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
  • ESS is affiliated to the National Secular Society, although views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the NSS.

Edinburgh Secular Society member Neil is featured in Herald Scotland

Neil G

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