The Accord Coalition, which unites religious and non-religious groups concerned with the reform of faith schools, has issued a warning about the implications of the Academies Bill for newly created Academy faith schools.
The Government announced that it has already met with the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service about the Academies Bill in a written answer to a Parliamentary Question.
The chair of Accord, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, commented: "By giving all new Academy faith schools the same legal status as independent schools with a religious character, the Bill will allow many of these schools to operate in far more narrow and exclusive ways than they are currently doing."
"‘For example, voluntary controlled and foundation faith schools teach Religious Education that is generally not instructional and which covers a broad range of different religions and beliefs. They are also only permitted to select one-fifth of their teachers based on religious grounds. Furthermore, religious considerations do not form part of the admission procedures.
"By contrast independent schools with a religious character can teach RE that is instructional and which only covers the school’s religion, and they can also select all of their pupils on the grounds of their or their families’ religious beliefs. In addition, these schools are able to discriminate in the appointment and employment of all their teachers on religious grounds, without having to show that such discrimination is in any way proportionate or necessary to the working of the school. They can also then discipline and dismiss their teachers because of conduct in their professional or private life which the school deems incompatible with the tenets of its faith."
Dr Romain added: "Allowing schools to operate in these ways helps them to create religious ghettos, where children grow up with little understanding of those from different backgrounds. This creates an environment where mistrust between different communities can grow, potentially damaging community cohesion for many years to come.
"We know from polling evidence that the public does not support faith schools operating in these narrow and exclusive ways, but their views, along with Liberal Democrat Party policy is not being taken into consideration by the Coalition government, it seems.
"The Liberal Democrats' policy commits the Party to end discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief for all teacher posts not involved in teaching RE, while it also requires that the core provision of Religious Education in state schools is not instructional," said the Rabbi.
The Accord Coalition chair concluded: "What makes these changes even worse is that they are being rushed through, without proper debate or scrutiny. The Government has met with the Church of England and the Catholic Education Service about the Bill, but has ignored our requests to meet. Meanwhile, they have so far failed to answers queries about the Bill from parliamentarians concerned about faith schools on the Government benches. Those of us who are concerned about faith schools operating in restrictive and discriminatory ways are being frozen out."
The Accord Coalition was launched in 2008 to bring together religious and non-religious organisations and individuals campaigning for an end to religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions.
The coalition also works for a fair and balanced RE curriculum, for pupils to receive Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education, and for the removal of the requirement for compulsory collective worship.
It does not take a position for or against faith schools in principle. Accord's growing list of members and supporters includes the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, Muslim organisation BMSD, the Hindu Academy, the British Humanist Association, and members from all three of the largest parties in parliament as well as Greens and others.
A 2009 You Gov poll commissioned by the Accord Coalition found that 72 per cent of people agreed that “all state funded schools should operate recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on grounds of religion or belief”, while 75 per cent agreed that “all state funded schools should teach an objective and balanced syllabus for education about a wide range of religious and non-religious beliefs’.