Senior clergy may reignite controversy over faith schools - news from ekklesia

Senior clergy may reignite controversy over faith schools - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
27 Sep 2005

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Senior clergy may reignite controversy over faith schools

-27/09/05

Two senior clergymen have risked reigniting the controversy over faith schools after they signalled their unwillingness to send Christian children to Muslim schools.

Their comments follow a reent opinion poll, published by ICM and the Guardian newspaper, which indicated that the British public are increasingly concerned about the presence and growth of faith-based schools.

Now Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, has said he would not want large numbers of Catholic children attending Muslim faith schools as he would not want them brought up in "that particular atmosphere."

His remarks were echoed by Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark, who said he would not have sent his children to a Muslim school. He said: "Although religion is taken seriously in a Muslim school, I think the particular insight of Islam is ... is not mine."

Both men were speaking on the BBC2 programme God and the Politicians, due to be broadcast tomorrow night, in which the role of religion and politics will be examined.

In the interview for the programme, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said a number of Jewish and Muslim people were happy to send their children to Catholic schools as they understood that the ethos of the schools was something "they cohere with."

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told the programme he received his secondary education at a Catholic school.

Reacting to the Cardinal and Dr Butler's remarks, he told the programme: "I think this is the difficulty which we have - that what is good for myself and my children should also be seen to be good for others as well.

"And as much as we are all professing that we have to have that understanding of each other, it is important this should be also put into practice."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor and Dr Butler's remarks come after it was revealed in August that the Government is considering changes to the rules governing the operation of state schools, which could see many more Muslim schools applying to join the state sector.

There are currently only five Muslim state-funded schools in England. However, the government is keen to increase the number on offer to parents. Powers that will be proposed in a white paper due in November are expected to boost the amount of such schools.

It is thought likely that independent schools - including Muslim schools - may be offered greater flexibility on the conditions they have to fulfil if they decide to join the state sector.

It has been reported that as many as 150 independent Muslim schools may be offered the opportunity to take on "voluntary aided" status similar to that enjoyed by around 7,000 Anglican, Catholic and Jewish schools.

The Church of England remains committed to church schools as a major part of its work. It argues that they are plural in their approach and popular with those who do not have a Christian commitment because of their overall ethos and record.

But others, like the National Secular Society, say that religion has too much influence in education and wishes to see faith-based schools removed from the state sector altogether.

The argument has been complicated in recent weeks by a growing debate about ways in which the mainstreaming of minority groups can help to eliminate extremist ideas which could be a breeding ground for violence.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said increasing the number of Muslim schools would only exacerbate "educational apartheid."

He said: "Non-Muslims don't want to go to Muslim schools and, increasingly, Muslims won't go to Christian schools.

"It's a disaster that will haunt us for generations to come unless it is nipped in the bud now.

"The Government could make a start by removing all religious entry requirements from single-faith schools immediately, and then begin the process of returning faith schools to the wider communities that fund them."

Two senior clergymen have risked reigniting the controversy over faith schools after they signalled their unwillingness to send Christian children to Muslim schools.

Their comments follow a recent opinion poll, published by ICM and the Guardian newspaper, which indicated that the British public are increasingly concerned about the presence and growth of faith-based schools.

Now Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, has said he would not want large numbers of Catholic children attending Muslim faith schools as he would not want them brought up in "that particular atmosphere."

His remarks were echoed by Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark, who said he would not have sent his children to a Muslim school. He said: "Although religion is taken seriously in a Muslim school, I think the particular insight of Islam is ... is not mine."

Both men were speaking on the BBC2 programme God and the Politicians, due to be broadcast tomorrow night, in which the role of religion and politics will be examined.

In the interview for the programme, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said a number of Jewish and Muslim people were happy to send their children to Catholic schools as they understood that the ethos of the schools was something "they cohere with."

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told the programme he received his secondary education at a Catholic school.

Reacting to the Cardinal and Dr Butler's remarks, he told the programme: "I think this is the difficulty which we have - that what is good for myself and my children should also be seen to be good for others as well.

"And as much as we are all professing that we have to have that understanding of each other, it is important this should be also put into practice."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor and Dr Butler's remarks come after it was revealed in August that the Government is considering changes to the rules governing the operation of state schools, which could see many more Muslim schools applying to join the state sector.

There are currently only five Muslim state-funded schools in England. However, the government is keen to increase the number on offer to parents. Powers that will be proposed in a white paper due in November are expected to boost the amount of such schools.

It is thought likely that independent schools - including Muslim schools - may be offered greater flexibility on the conditions they have to fulfil if they decide to join the state sector.

It has been reported that as many as 150 independent Muslim schools may be offered the opportunity to take on "voluntary aided" status similar to that enjoyed by around 7,000 Anglican, Catholic and Jewish schools.

The Church of England remains committed to church schools as a major part of its work. It argues that they are plural in their approach and popular with those who do not have a Christian commitment because of their overall ethos and record.

But others, like the National Secular Society, say that religion has too much influence in education and wishes to see faith-based schools removed from the state sector altogether.

The argument has been complicated in recent weeks by a growing debate about ways in which the mainstreaming of minority groups can help to eliminate extremist ideas which could be a breeding ground for violence.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said increasing the number of Muslim schools would only exacerbate "educational apartheid."

He said: "Non-Muslims don't want to go to Muslim schools and, increasingly, Muslims won't go to Christian schools.

"It's a disaster that will haunt us for generations to come unless it is nipped in the bud now.

"The Government could make a start by removing all religious entry requirements from single-faith schools immediately, and then begin the process of returning faith schools to the wider communities that fund them."

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