Category Archives: News Release

ESS Press statement on sectarianism in relation Scottish schools

Saturday 14 December 2014 – For immediate release

A recently published report commissioned by the Scottish government  (Advisory Group on Tackling Sectarianism in Scotland Independent Advice to Scottish Ministers and Report on Activity 9 August 2012 – 15 November 2013) claims that denominational schools have no causal influence on sectarianism.

This seems hard to believe.

The report expresses concern about sectarianism but offers no alternative explanation for its existence.

It is incredible that even as the advisory group endorses educational apartheid according to the religious beliefs of parents, it urges schools both to work on their “co-operation and relationship building” and to be “imaginative” in constructing “anti-sectarian partnerships.”

It flatly contradicts the experience of Northern Ireland which has had to deal with this problem at its most acute. Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said in November 2011 "We cannot hope to move beyond our present community divisions while our young people are educated separately.”

Edinburgh Secular Society Education Officer and parent Veronica Wikman says:

“Segregation of children is always going to be counter-productive to the aim of creating social cohesion. It is naïve to suggest that segregated schools are not a huge contributing factor to sectarianism.”

ESS Press and Communications Officer Neil Barber adds:

”This suggestion flies in the face of common sense. Is the faith school lobby so powerful that the Government’s advisory group on tackling sectarianism is ignoring the elephant in the room?”

[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. http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01498

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 ****

NOTES TO EDITOR

  • 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)http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/13790/3_CHURCH_and_SOCIETY_2013.pdf

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: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_PublicPetitionsCommittee/General%20Documents/PE1487_P_Edinburgh_Secular_Society_11.10.13.pdf

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.”

[1] http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/68010/

  • 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.

Edinburgh Secular Society moves for an end to unelected religious representatives

News release – Embargoed until –Monday 14th October

Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) has lodged a petition with the Scottish Parliament in relation to religious representatives on local authority education committees. The petition calls on the Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to bring forward legislative proposals to repeal Section 124 of the Local Government Act.

This would end the legal obligation on local authorities to appoint three unelected religious representatives to sit on their education committees.

The petition is available to view via the Scottish Parliament’s website:

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/ViewPetitions.aspx

The National Secular Society, Humanist Society Scotland and University of Edinburgh Humanist Society support the petition.

  • Every one of Scotland’s 32 local authority education committees in Scotland is legally obliged to appoint three religious representatives.
  • In most areas two religious representatives are nominated from each of the Catholic Church and Church of Scotland, with one other being appointed by the local authority.
  • 2011 census results show that almost half of all Scots profess no religious beliefs. This figure is higher among young people. There is no mandate for this privileged influence over our education system.
  • Religious representatives are accountable only to their respective religious organisations and cannot be voted out by the public, yet they have full voting rights on the committees.
  • The Church of Scotland has recognised this, reporting that ‘. . . Church representatives hold the balance of power on 19 local authority committees’.

That religious representatives have a direct influence on the education of our children is an unwelcome throwback to when churches used to run our schools prior to 1872.  ESS recognises the historical role that religious organisations played in the early education system; however changing demographics of our increasingly secular society make the current position untenable. It is profoundly undemocratic and needs to change.

Education committees may choose to draw on the wisdom of many advisory bodies experienced in the education of children, but why are religious leaders directly involved in governing the local education system?  They should be free to give their counsel like any other individual or group but should not have a direct role in governing the education system. Even if they wanted to, groups like humanists, secularists and atheists are prevented from taking up a seat as a religious representative as they do not have a “place of worship” which the legislation requires.

ESS has published the names of all the religious nominees on Scotland’s education committees http://edinburghsecularsociety.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Religious-Reps-Edinburgh-Secular-Society-July-2013.pdf

Our Local Authority Education Committees sometimes have to deal with other public concerns about religion in education, such as Veronica Wikman’s petition[1] to remove religious observance from non-denominational schools in Edinburgh. Such concerns should not be handled by individuals with a vested interest in the status quo. 

In addition, Church of Scotland guidance to its religious representatives on education committees advises them to encourage school Chaplains to introduce faith-based resources to schools for use in the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence.[2]

Colin Emerson, ESS Vice-chair states:

“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.”

Patrick Harvie, MSP for Glasgow, comments:

“In a society in which increasing numbers of people don’t practice any religion, it’s high time that we questioned a practice which gives religious hierarchies an influence over every child’s education. I’m particularly concerned at the involvement of people who would promote utterly unscientific notions like creationism; pushing this absurd ideology at children is the very opposite of education.”

City of Edinburgh Councillor Sandy Howat (an elected member on the City of Edinburgh Children and Families Committee) states:

“Unelected, unaccountable and I would suggest untenable? Undemocratic influence over public education is fundamentally at odds with the principles of respect, equality and shared freedoms. All contributions to committee deliberations should be welcomed, yet continued undemocratic privilege of the few over the many is an out-dated tradition we should remove.  As we look to create a fairer Scotland with liberty at its core, we need to ask ourselves what this ‘privilege’ says about our values; it’s time for a new enlightenment.”

Alistair McBay the Scottish spokesperson of the National Secular Society states:

"From the evidence we have of churches leveraging their chaplaincy roles in schools and the religious observance guidelines for the purposes of evangelism, so they also leverage these undemocratic positions for their own self-serving interests. Why else would the Kirk, for example, highlight these roles in its Education Committee work plan and provide training courses, handbooks etc. so as to provide "better trained local authority reps able to be more effective on LA Education Committees". Effective for whose ultimate benefit, exactly?"

Humanist Society Scotland’s education officer, Patrick McGlinchey states:

"Humanist Society Scotland’s vision is of a secular education system where all pupils within a community are schooled together, not divided on the religious beliefs of their parents.

Ensuring that education policy lies with locally elected representatives and not in the hands of religious organisations would be a positive step towards this vision of a system that put the child first." 

Ian Scott, Secretary of University of Edinburgh Humanist Society states:

“Religious (and nonreligious) figures are perfectly at liberty to put forth their views to committees, but citizens in a democracy rightly expect that those actually taking the decisions about how their children are educated are elected in a fair and transparent manner; not dropped in from on high by out-of-touch, often highly socially conservative, religious bodies, given a free pass to impose their dogma on children.”

ESS calls upon The Scottish Parliament to begin legislation to remove this out-dated and unrepresentative practice.

We ask that everyone who values a free, inclusive and secular society sign our petition at:

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01498

***Ends***

  • Speakers available for TV/Radio and other interviews.  For further information contact Gary McLelland Chairman on 07813060713 or Colin Emerson Vice-Chairman on 07706837007
  • 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

[1]

http://edinburghsecularsociety.com/2013/04/15/petition-to-remove-religious-observance-from-nondenominational-schools-scheduled-for-hearing-by-the-city-of-edinburgh-council-petitions-committee-on-june-3rd/

[2] http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/13295/302_C_and_S_Reps_Handbook_Leaflet6.pdf

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.

***Ends***

  • 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.

www.edinburghsecularsociety.com

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 (http://www.normanbonney.blogspot.com/).

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.”

***Ends***

  • 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 exposes religious interference in the heart of local democracy

News release

  • Edinburgh Secular Society (ESS) exposes religious interference at the heart of local democracy in Scotland’s education committees.
  • Releases collated details of all 91 unelected ‘religious representatives’  sitting on Scotland’s 32 local authority education committees [i],  [ii].
  • Identifies one of Europe’s ‘most active creationists’ at the centre of school decision making in South Lanarkshire [iii], [iv].

Wednesday 17 July 2013      For immediate release

Edinburgh Secular Society has taken unparalleled action by publishing consolidated details of all 91 unelected religious representatives sitting on the education committees of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.  These are representatives not voted for by their electorate, but simply undemocratically appointed after nomination by their local churches.

Nevertheless, they have full voting rights on all educational issues coming before their local authority. Furthermore, council-tax payers foot their expenses bill. And the undemocratic nature of these appointments has angered many elected officials [v].

In a significant number of areas of Scotland, these unelected representatives hold sway. Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, in a report earlier this year to their General Assembly, appears proud to claim “We estimate that . . . Church Representatives hold the balance of power on 19 Local Authority Committees (of 32). [vi].

Edinburgh Secular Society believes that continuing with this practice is damaging to local democracy in Scotland, and politics in general.

Prof. Norman Bonney, social science researcher and ESS founding member notes:

The legally required appointment of religious nominees to local authority education committees is profoundly undemocratic. There is concern expressed in the press today (14 July, by the Chief Executive of the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations) that turnout in local government elections is too low. This revelation about the influence of unelected religious nominees on the decisions made by local council education committees can only further undermine public confidence in the accountability of local authorities to their local communities. There has to be a fundamental rethink of these arrangements to ensure that education committee decisions are made by councillors and not by unelected religious representatives.

Patrick Harvie, MSP for Glasgow, comments:

In a society in which increasing numbers of people don’t practice any religion, it’s high time that we questioned a practice which gives religious hierarchies an influence over every child’s education. I’m particularly concerned at the involvement of people who would promote utterly unscientific notions like creationism; pushing this absurd ideology at children is the very opposite of education.

Bailie Dr Nina Baker, Glasgow City councillor (one of two Scottish Green Party seats on the city council’s executive), says:

Whilst I can see that representatives of major world faiths might have a role in advising on curriculum content for the teaching of comparative religion in schools, I believe they should have no right to vote on councils’ decision-making bodies. Those votes should be reserved for accountable, elected members only. A recent contribution from the Roman Catholic representative on Glasgow’s executive was to make clear his church could never accept the principle and practice of shared-campus schools, a policy with full cross-party support.

Commenting on the presence of unelected religious representatives on local authority education committees, City of Edinburgh Councillor Sandy Howat adds:

Unelected, unaccountable and I would suggest untenable? Undemocratic influence over public education is fundamentally at odds with the principles of respect, equality and shared freedoms. All contributions to committee deliberations should be welcomed, yet continued undemocratic privilege of the few over the many is an outdated tradition we should remove.  As we look to create a fairer Scotland with liberty at its core, we need to ask ourselves what this ‘privilege’ says about our values; it’s time for a new enlightenment.

ESS notes that these ‘religious representative’ placements are not open to those without any declared religious beliefs, nor to humanists, or to the many minority religious faith groups, as the law calls for representatives to have a recognised ‘place of worship7.  Such discrimination should be of concern to all fair-minded electors in Scotland.

Edinburgh Secular Society is calling on the Scottish Government to review the clause, with a view to removing it from the Act. The group also believes that it is not compliant with the Equality Act 2010.

***  ENDS  ***

 


 

References:

[i]       List of 91 unelected religious representatives sitting on Scotland’s 32 local authority education committees: online at  http://edinburghsecularsociety.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Religious-Reps-Edinburgh-Secular-Society-July-2013.pdf

Data from Local Authorities by Freedom of Information requests, or from information publicly available on the Internet

[ii]      Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 c. 39 Part I, Chapter 6, Education Section 31 stipulates that three (four for an islands area) unelected but church appointed religious representatives must sit as voting members on an education committee.
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1994/39/section/31

[iii]     ‘One of Europe’s most active creationists is my good friend Dr. Nagy Iskander’, Ken Hamm, President of Answers in Genesis creationist group writing at:  http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2013/04/10/reaching-scots/

[iv]     Dr Nagy Iskander: Sits unelected on the Education Resources Committee of South Lanarkshire Council as religious representative of Westwoodhill Evangelical Church, East Kilbride, and as one of seven chaplains at his local school. He discusses his teaching of the bible at his local schools and ‘the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ’. (circa 07:00 min at http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/am/v4/n3/iskander-audio)

[v]      ‘Councillor David Alston says having three religious representatives on Highland Council’s education committees threatens democratic decision making because they are unelected.’ Inverness Courier 31 Aug 2012
http://www.inverness-courier.co.uk/News/Clergy-embroiled-in-school-site-vote-controversy-31082012.htm

[vi]     ‘We estimate that these three Church Representatives hold the balance of power on 19 Local Authority Committees’: Church of Scotland Church and Society Council Deliverance to CoS General Assembly  May 2013 p3/31 para 11.4.3)
http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/13790/3_CHURCH_and_SOCIETY_2013.pdf

Notes to Editor

  • For further information contact Gary McLelland – Chairman  07813060713 or Colin Emerson – Vice-chair  07706  837 007.
  • ESS campaigns for freedom of religion, and freedom from religion.
  • ESS is affiliated to the National Secular Society; however, views expressed here are those of ESS alone.
  • ESS provides speakers for TV/Radio interview, quotes and pictures on request.
  • Download press release: ESS News Release Religious Reps 2013-07-17

ESS issues strong evidence to support Edinburgh mother’s petition calling for a referendum to cease Religious Observance in city schools.

Edinburgh Secular Society
Challenging religious privilege
www.edinburghsecularsociety.com
NEWS RELEASE

For immediate release:

  • ESS issues strong evidence to support Edinburgh mother’s petition calling for a referendum to cease Religious Observance in city schools.
  • Veronica Wikman’s Petition to be heard by Edinburgh City Council on Monday 3rd June.

This petition requests that council members agree to hold a referendum of its electorate on the discontinuance of religious observance (RO) in Edinburgh schools.
ESS has submitted a report and covering letter as supplementary evidence to put before the CEC Petitions Committee members. This report strongly supports Ms Wikman’s petition.
The ESS report contains compelling evidence, from a variety of sources, including Edinburgh parents, which support and underpin its central argument that enforced religious observance in a 21st century democratic society is unsustainable.
Evidence includes:

  • Statistical data that indicates 53% of Scots have no religious faith and only 22% adhere to the Church of Scotland.
  • Clear indications that religious organisations use RO to proselytise in schools, For example, one Scripture Union (SU) worker claims: “However, generally speaking our children . . . aren’t coming to our churches but 99% of them are in school. We do well to be there . . . so at least they will give Jesus a thought. I thank God that schools have been welcoming and allowed me and others in to do just this.”
  • Communications from Edinburgh parents, supporting the ESS and Ms Wikman’s petition, stating : “I am aware that the Parent Council at Ratho Primary have raised the issue with the local minister coming into the school on a regular basis”. and that: “the school chooses to have the Primary 7 leaving ceremony in the local parish church; . . I have met with . . . a lot of resistance. I choose to live life without religion I don’t see why a school, especially non-denominational are having a leaving ceremony in a Christian place of worship as that is not at all inclusive for all students especially taking into account the school’s multicultural and diverse make-up of the current pupils attending”with another declaring that:“Schools shouldn’t be given the role of endorsing religion, only teaching about them. Who is allowing this system to continue through every kind of school review when it seems to contravene so many clauses concerning children’s and parental rights?”

The report concludes: ‘ESS endorses the opportunity the petition affords city electors to decide by ballot whether the very questionable practice of religious observance in state-funded, nondenominational city schools should be continued’

In its covering letter accompanying this report submitted to petition committee members, ESS has expressed serious concerns over the potential procedural handling of the petition by CEC.
ESS Chairman, Gary McLelland, writes:
‘We respectfully remind members of the key issue raised by this petition before City of Edinburgh Council (CEC). It is not whether religious observance (RO) in ‘nondenominational’ city schools within its responsibility should be required, but rather whether CEC should conduct a ballot to allow their electors in the city to determine whether they wish religious observance in city schools be discontinued.”
He continues: ‘ESS suggests that all members of CEC make a final decision on the proposal, rather than transferring the responsibility to a committee or sub-committee of the council.
Public confidence in the Council would be gravely undermined if the Education, Children and Families Committee (ECFC) of the Council alone make a final decision on this petition. This committee’s membership includes three unelected external members nominated by religious denominations, all of whom are Christian, and must be regarded therefore as having a conflict of
interest in any decision.’

**** ENDS ****
NOTES TO EDITOR

  • For further information or copies of the report, contact:
  • Neil Barber – ESS Media Officer on 07986 183 977 or Gary McLelland – Chairman on 07813060713
  • Ms Wikman is a member of ESS.
  • ESS campaigns for a secular Edinburgh and a secular Scotland. It challenges religious privilege in the public arena.
  • ESS is affiliated to the National Secular Society, although views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the NSS.
  • ESS can provide speakers for TV/Radio interview, quotes and pictures on request.

 

Petition to remove Religious Observance from nondenominational schools scheduled for hearing by The City of Edinburgh Council petitions committee on June 3rd.

ESS News Release 15 April 2013

Edinburgh Secular Society 

Challenging religious privilege
www.edinburghsecularsociety.com
News release

• Petition to remove Religious Observance from nondenominational schools scheduled for hearing by The City of Edinburgh Council petitions committee on June 3rd.
• ESS frustrated as church-supported counter petition to “keep RO” is to be heard at the same time.
Monday 15th April 2013 For immediate release
Veronica Wikman’s petition supported by The Edinburgh Secular Society has already received more than twice the number of signatures required to warrant a hearing by the Petitions Committee but it seems that the committee will also hear a petition
proposing to retain RO.
ESS is surprised that CEC has both accepted this petition to retain the status quo and scheduled it to be heard at the same time as Ms Wikman’s but we welcome the chance for a full debate on this issue. Religious worship cannot be justified in schools
when parents have so many different views on religion.
Petitioner and parent Veronica Wikman says “This is a knee-jerk reaction by a sector of the religious community who are desperate to hold on to their privilege but I’m confident that CEC recognises this and will act to end the indoctrination and
discrimination of RO.”
ESS founding member Professor Norman Bonney says “These polarised views make it all the more important to consult the electors in a referendum according to section 8 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.”
Neil Barber ESS media officer says “Religious education (RE), if taught without bias, rightly introduces children to different religious and philosophical ideas. We do not need additional RO which is just preaching. We hope that people will understand the difference.”

**** ENDS ****
NOTES TO EDITOR

• For further information contact Gary McLelland – Chairman on 07813060713 or Neil Barber – Media Officer on 07986183977.
• 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.
• ESS can provide speakers for TV/Radio interview, quotes and pictures on request.
• The petition can be viewed and signed online at http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/directory_record/219097/remove_religious_observance_from_non-denominational_schools
* Ms Wikman is a member of ESS.