Tag Archives: Secularism

Public religious subsidy of the week–6. £140,000 pa for a Church of Scotland chaplain at St Andrew’s University.

Manfreddi La Manna points out the Stirling University has found a much more economical and effective way of providing chaplaincies for university students from public funds with the university only providing accommodation for such activities and the denominations paying for the services of their priests. The University of St Andrews pays the full time salary of a Church of Scotland minister and for two support staff while other denominations (Catholic, Episcopalian/Anglican, Church of Scotland, Kingdom Vineyard Church, Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish – two rabbis) provide their religious services to students out of their own resources.

For more on this story from the Scottish Review click this link http://bit.ly/Szq1Y1

An independent Scotland: A secular or a religious state?

A recent statement by the Church of Scotland and a number of other religious denominations demanding that religion is specially recognised in an independent Scottish state raises fundamental issues that have not yet been answered by the Scottish Government.

Professor Norman Bonney, ESS Honorary President, explores some of the key issues in a new London School of Economics British Policy and Politics blog post. Visit


Scottish Government religious subsidy of the week – 4 – £60,000 pa to Interfaith Glasgow

The Scottish Government now gives an annual grant of £60,000 to Interfaith Glasgow.

This is in addition to grants previously publicised by ESS of £120,000 pa to Interfaith Scotland and £70,000 per annum to Interfaith Edinburgh. The cumulative annual funding for interfaith work revealed so far by ESS is thus a quarter of a million pounds – £250,000 per annum

The work of Interfaith Glasgow is documented at http://www.interfaithglasgow.org and at least this interfaith organisation admits upfront that it is funded by the Scottish Government. The growth of city based funding, in addition to the funding of the nation wide interfaith organisation, Interfaith Scotland, which is already based in Glasgow, looks highly questionable.

Most of the denominations involved will be charities and will benefit from tax relief on income and gains, rates relief and gift aid. Why then should additional public funds be channelled to them? There ought to be no need for this funding. Local authorities are well placed to facilitate cooperation and dialogue between religious denominations if it is felt that there are problematic aspects of relationships between them and the denominations themselves ought to be open to dialogue between themselves out of religious goodwill and their own resources.

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 secularism.org.uk: 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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Remembrance Sunday: The secular origins and significance of the Cenotaph

Originally posted on secularism.org.uk: Tue, 05 Nov 2013 14:58

New paper calls for secular ceremony of remembrance at the Cenotaph

A new academic paper examining the origins of the Cenotaph and the ceremonies surrounding it has questioned the role of the Church of England at the annual ceremony of remembrance at the Cenotaph, and calls for the event to be made more inclusive.

A new academic paper examining the origins of the Cenotaph and the ceremonies surrounding it has questioned the role of the Church of England at the annual ceremony of remembrance at the Cenotaph, and calls for the event to be made more inclusive.

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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)

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:


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:



  • 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



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

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 meet with representatives of the Church of Scotland

On Friday 27th September 2013, Gary McLelland, Colin Emerson and Norman Bonney (Chair, Vice-chair and Honorary President of Edinburgh Secular Society) met with representatives of the Church of Scotland at their offices in George St, Edinburgh. Present from the Kirk were Ewan Aitken (Secretary of Church & Society Council), Sally Fulton-Foster (Convener of Church & Society Council) and Sandy Fraser (Convener of Education Committee).

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