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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. 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.