Evangelicals find common ground with Humanists over faith school ads

By staff writers
November 19, 2009

Evangelicals in the UK have welcomed a message of the new advertising campaign launched yesterday by the British Humanist Association (BHA).

The Evangelical Alliance has said it is pleased that the BHA are emphasising that a child’s faith is not a matter of what their parents believe, but up to the individual concerned.

The Bishop of Croydon, Nick Baines, also welcomed the adverts, saying he hoped they would get people talking about God.

The message, however, will not go down well with some churches and faith schools, who operate discriminatory admissions policies which give priority to children because of their parent’s faith and not their own.

Billboard adverts went up yesterday in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, as a high profile poster campaign which began this year on London buses, launches its second phase. So much money was donated towards the campaign after the bus posters had been launched that the campaign organisers announced that any further money raised would be put towards new adverts later in the year.

The Bible Society's thinktank Theos was amongst those who announced that they had given money to the campaign.

“One of the issues raised again and again by donors to the campaign was the issue of children having the freedom to grow up and decide for themselves what they believe, and that we should not label children with any ideology,” said Ariane Sherine, original creator of the Atheist Bus Campaign. “I hope this poster campaign will encourage the government, media and general public to see children as individuals, free to make their own choices, and accord them the liberty and respect they deserve.”

The posters display some of the labels routinely applied to children which imply beliefs such as ‘Catholic’, ‘Protestant’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Hindu’ or ‘Sikh’, mixed up together with labels that the organisers say people would never apply to young children such as ‘Marxist’, ‘Anarchist’, ‘Socialist’, ‘Libertarian’ or ‘Humanist’. In front of the shadowy labels are happy children, with the slogan, ‘Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself’, in the same font used for the Atheist Bus Campaign.

The billboards were unveiled to coincide with 20 November, Universal Children’s Day, which is the United Nations ‘day of worldwide fraternity and understanding between children’.

“We urgently need to raise consciousnesses on this issue,” said Richard Dawkins, Vice President of the BHA, President of RDFRS, and co-sponsor of the campaign. “Nobody would seriously describe a tiny child as a ‘Marxist child’ or an ‘Anarchist child’ or a ‘Post-modernist child’. Yet children are routinely labelled with the religion of their parents. We need to encourage people to think carefully before labelling any child too young to know their own opinions and our adverts will help to do that.’

Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education, said, “The labelling of children becomes even worse when it is implemented as a matter of public policy. One of the issues we hope to highlight with these adverts is the continuing and increasing segregation of children according to parental religion in state-funded ‘faith schools.’ Social cohesion and preparation for life in a diverse society is best achieved in inclusive community schools, where children from different backgrounds learn with and from each other without being divided by labels that they are not old enough to have chosen for themselves."

Justin Thacker, Head of Theology at the Evangelical Alliance welcomed the campaign in a statement yesterday. "It is great to see that the Humanists are now agreeing that children have to make their own decisions about faith” he said.

“Evangelicals do not believe that God has any grandchildren, only children. You are not a Christian simply because your parents are. Every child or adult has to make up their own minds about the reality of God."

The campaign comes after a report by the thinktank Theos said that there is presently little evidence that the ethos that church schools create has much educational benefit.

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